3 Key Questions for Elon Musk Ahead of Tesla's End-of-Year Earnings Call

Tesla is set to announce its latest quarterly earnings on Wednesday. The electric car maker, fresh from a big year that saw a huge expansion in manufacturing, is now preparing for the next stage of CEO Elon Musk’s stated goal of transitioning more people onto sustainable energy.

The fourth quarter earnings report will summarize a tough year for Tesla. The company started the year producing Tesla Model 3s at a rate well below expectations. In April, Goldman Sachs expected the company to raise capital to fund its mass expansion. The company eventually pulled through, but Musk admitted in November that it faced a “severe threat of death.”

Last quarter, Tesla reported its third-ever profits. The company has signalled to investors that this set of earnings will also place the firm in the black. Here’s three questions about the company that Musk will need to answer when he faces investors during this earnings call:

3. Is Tesla Ready to Produce a $35,000 Car?

The Tesla Model 3 first entered production in July 2017 with a proposed eventual price tag of $35,000, the base model offering a car that can run 220 miles per charge and a cheaper interior. The handover ceremony saw the first handful of buyers receive their premium versions kitted out with a 310-mile battery, priced at around $49,000. The company has gradually slid the starting price down to $44,000 thanks to the introduction of a 260-mile car and a $2,000 price cut across the board to offset the gradual phase-out of federal tax credits.

In May 2018, Musk claimed that Tesla would produce the base model six months after reaching 5,000 cars per week, a feat it achieved in June 2018:

Musk admitted at the end of last year that he’s not particularly good at predicting release dates, adding: “We’ve never made a mass-produced car. How am I supposed to know with precision when it’s going to get done?”

Tesla laid off seven percent of its full-time employees this month, in an email where Musk also stated that the company was gearing up for its fourth-ever profitable quarter and to deliver the $35,000 car. Will we see a timescale in the earnings call?

2. What Is Happening With Full Self-Driving?

Tesla started shipping cars with the necessary cameras and sensors for full autonomy in October 2016, promising a coast-to-coast autonomous ride by 2017. That didn’t happen, but Musk has provided regular updates about the company’s ongoing project to fundamentally reshape driving.

Musk told investors in February 2018 that he was “pretty excited” about a coast-to-coast ride, but explained: “Focus was very much on Model 3 production so everything else kind of took a second place to that. We could have done the coast-to-coast drive but it would have required too much specialized code to effectively game it, or make it somewhat brittle in that it would work for one particular route but not be a general solution.”

A Tesla Model S with Autopilot driving the car.
Look ma, no hands!

In August, Musk announced during the earnings call that the company has spent the last three years developing an in-house processor that can replace the Nvidia Drive PX 2 and power future full self-driving, expected to launch around April 2019. Two months later though, the company pulled the option to pre-order the feature as Musk believed it was “causing too much confusion.” In December, Tesla started asking internal employees to volunteer testing the system. What is the timescale for its release?

1. What Challenges Will Tesla Face in the Coming Year?

Tesla has a packed schedule ahead. Beyond full self-driving, the company is expected to introduce the Model Y entry-level SUV in March and the Pickup Truck at an undetermined time. It’s also planning to start production on the Semi electric truck and second-generation Roadster.

The new Roadster.
The new Roadster.

On the production side, Tesla broke ground on the Shanghai Gigafactory earlier this month with a pledge to start producing entry-level Model 3s for Greater China as early as this year. The company has also discussed the possibility of a Gigafactory in Europe. Tesla may have avoided the threat of death, but what sort of challenges will it face in 2019?

Tesla Q4 2018 Earnings Call: Start Times

Tesla’s earnings call is set to take place at the following times:

  • 2:30 p.m. Pacific time
  • 5:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • 10:30 p.m. British Summer time
  • 11:30 p.m. Central European time
  • 6:30 a.m. China Standard time (Thursday)
  • 9:30 a.m. Australian Eastern time (Thursday)

Tesla Q4 2018 Earnings Call: How to Listen

Listening to the call is simple. Just follow these instructions:

  • Head to the company’s investor relations page. The listings should show the fourth quarter 2018 results, plus a link to the webcast.
  • Visit the webcast link. You will be asked to enter your first name, last name, email address, and company.
  • Hit submit, and you will be taken to the media player.

Note that the player only supports the following browsers:

  • Google Chrome (two latest versions)
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 11
  • Microsoft Edge (two latest versions)
  • Firefox (two latest versions)
  • Safari (two latest versions)

The player also only supports these operating systems:

  • iOS 10 and above
  • Android 4.4 and above
  • Windows 7 (latest service pack)
  • Windows 8.1 (latest service pack)
  • Windows 10 (latest version)
  • OS X 10.11 El Capitan
  • macOS 10.12 Sierra
  • macOS 10.13 High Sierra

Once the call starts, you should be ready to listen!

Watch the Tesla Model 3 Dash Through a Snowy New Zealand Racetrack