Tesla Earnings Set Record in First Quarter

Tesla announced a solid quarterly financial performance on Monday reflecting continuing increases in sales and production around the world.

The electric-car maker reported earnings of 39 cents per share in the first quarter. That was a significant increase from the 24 cents per share it reported for the fourth quarter of 2020. A year ago, it earned just 2 cents per share in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic hurt sales and forced the shutdown of its plant in Fremont, Calif.

The quarterly profit of $438 million was Tesla’s highest ever.

Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, suggested further growth in the coming quarters, saying he believed the Model Y, the company’s small sport utility vehicle, would become the one of the world’s top sellers. “There’s a lot to be excited about in 2021 and 2022,” he said on a conference call with analysts after the results were announced.

Like other automakers, Tesla has struggled with a chip shortage, presenting “one of the most difficult supply-chain challenges we’ve experienced,” Mr. Musk said. But he said the company was able to switch to chips that were easier to acquire.

Earlier this month, Tesla said it delivered a record 184,800 cars in the first three months of the year, more than double the total from the comparable period in 2020.

“Tesla continues to see growing pent-up demand throughout China and Europe,” Dan Ives, a Wedbush analyst, wrote in a report to investors before the Monday announcement. In the United States, the Biden administration’s push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support sales of electric vehicles is likely to help sustain demand for Tesla’s cars, Mr. Ives added.

Although down from recent highs, Tesla shares are more than five times as valuable than they were a year ago. The stock declined more than 2 percent in extended trading after the earnings announcement, evidently because the results fell short of even higher expectations among some analysts.

The earnings news comes as Tesla is facing increasing questions about the safety of its Autopilot driver assistance system. Two men were killed this month in Texas when the Tesla Model S they were riding in crashed into a tree on a residential street and burst into flames. The local police said one man was found in the passenger seat and the other in the rear seat, with no one at the steering wheel when the crash occurred.

On the conference call on Monday, Tesla’s chief engineer, Lars Moravy, said Tesla had examined the car with local and federal investigators and found the steering wheel was deformed, suggesting that someone was in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash. All of the seatbelts were unbuckled, he added. Autopilot is supposed to disengage if the driver’s seatbelt is unbuckled.

Tesla has also come under scrutiny in China, where authorities have looked into reports from consumers about battery fires and sudden acceleration by Tesla vehicles.

The company currently makes cars in Fremont and Shanghai. In its earnings report, it said it expected to begin production this year at factories it is building in Austin, Texas, and in Germany near Berlin.

Tesla said it expected deliveries to increase more than 50 percent this year from the 500,000 vehicles it sold last year. Some analysts expect the year’s figure to reach 850,000 or more.

The Austin plant is supposed to produce an angular, futuristic-looking pickup, known as the Cybertruck, and a battery-powered semi truck. The Tesla Semi is supposed to go into production later this year, the company said. It gave no specific timetable for Cybertruck production.

Tesla said that it generated $293 million in cash in the quarter but that its cash on hand fell because it used $1.2 billion as part of its purchase of $1.5 billion of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency. It used another $1.2 billion for debt and lease repayments.

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