Tesla's Earnings May Give Clues on Demand for Cheaper Model X and S

By Markets Fool.com

Beleaguered by a slower-than-expected production ramp-up of electric-car maker Tesla Motors' (TSLA) late 2015-launched Model X, first- and second-quarter vehicle deliveries in 2016 were below management's own expectations. These missed targets have left Tesla behind on its aggressive goal to boost deliveries by 58% to 78% this year. But there could be one catalyst positioned to help Tesla still deliver enough vehicles to at least hit the low end of its guidance range for 80,000 to 90,000 vehicles this year: its new, less expensive versions of Model S and X.

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Model X. Image source: Tesla Motors.

 

A key catalyst?

 

Demand for Tesla vehicles increases when prices are lowered, as evidenced by the 373,000 deposit-backed reservations Tesla garnered for the Model 3 within a month of the $35,000 vehicle's unveiling. At about half the price of its Model S, the Model 3 appealed to a much larger segment of potential buyers, and demand surpassed virtually all expectations -- including Tesla management's. Could lower prices for its more expensive Model S and X help, too?

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Tesla recently introduced cheaper versions of both the Model S and X. But their introductions were too late to affect second-quarter deliveries. However, this doesn't mean investors won't get an idea of how well they're selling on Wednesday, when Tesla releases its second-quarter shareholder letter. Management could easily update investors on how these less expensive versions are doing.

On June 9, Tesla introduced a Model S with less range for $66,000 -- about $5,500 less than the base Model S at the time. And then on July 13, Tesla introduced its least expensive Model X, starting at $74,000 -- about $6,000 less than its previous base Model X. Notably, however, the lower prices for these vehicles don't fully reflect just how aggressive Tesla was with these new versions of S and X.

In an interesting twist to the way Tesla sells its vehicles, both base versions are delivered with larger battery packs than customers are paying for. Owners can get access to these larger battery packs with more range by paying a fee any time after delivery. The new base Model S comes standard with 60 kilowatt-hours worth of battery capacity but can be upgraded at any time for $9,000 to access the full 75 kWh capacity delivered with the vehicle. Similarly, the new base Model X gives buyers 60 kWh capacity but can be upgraded to 75 kWh capacity for a fee any time after purchasing the vehicle.

Model S. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Could these more aggressively priced S and X models help Tesla still hit its ambitious target of 80,000 to 90,000 vehicles this year, despite its missed targets in the first half?

 

Higher demand may not be enough

 

The dangerous assumption here, of course, is that Tesla can actually follow through with the production ramp-up needed to deliver 80,000 to 90,000 vehicles this year even if demand makes this level of deliveries possible. In other words, Tesla could fall short on deliveries even if demand rises rapidly. Indeed, Tesla has essentially been constrained by production in every quarter since the Model S was launched in 2012, so a production-constrained second half of 2016 wouldn't be anything new.

Tesla reports second-quarter financial results on Wednesday, Aug. 3, after the market closes. Within Tesla's second-quarter shareholder letter, investors are likely to get an update on how lower-priced versions of S and X are affecting demand.

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Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.