By Alexandria Sage and Munsif Vengattil
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Tesla Inc set a record for quarterly vehicle deliveries in a triumphant response to months of questions about demand for its luxury electric cars, sending shares up 7% after hours on Tuesday.
Tesla did not comment on profit - which is still elusive - but the robust deliveries could help jumpstart investor sentiment on Tesla, which has been challenged in recent months. Before Tuesday's after-hours spike, Tesla shares were down about a third from the beginning of the year.
Brushing aside concerns about demand that have dogged the company all year, Tesla said orders during the second quarter exceeded deliveries, despite buyers getting a smaller tax credit.
A $7,500 U.S. federal tax credit was cut in half at the end of last year, fell to $1,875 on Monday and expires at the end of the year.
"We believe we are well positioned to continue growing total production and deliveries in Q3," the company said in a statement.
Tesla delivered 77,550 Model 3s in the quarter, the company's latest sedan and linchpin of the company's growth strategy. That compared with analysts' average estimate of 73,144, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Deliveries of all models rose 51% from the first quarter to 95,200 vehicles, including 17,650 Model S and X. Analysts on average were expecting total deliveries of 89,084.
Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has repeatedly said Tesla could deliver a record number of cars in the second quarter, beating the 90,700 it sent to customers in the final quarter of last year.
Tuesday's numbers helped take the sting off a difficult first quarter, in which deliveries plunged and the company lost $702 million.
That fraught quarter – hurt by logistics issues at Tesla's international ports and a drop-off in U.S. orders after the tax credit was halved – spurred worries that Tesla may have tapped a limited market for electric cars at premium prices.
Despite the positive second-quarter delivery numbers, Wedbush analyst Dan Ives cautioned that "the Street remains skeptical."
Demand and profitability will remain the two main drivers to buoy Tesla shares in coming quarters, Ives told Reuters, signaling that Tesla's challenges are far from over.
Garrett Nelson of CFRA Research noted that second-quarter deliveries were likely artificially boosted by customers pulling forward their vehicle purchases before the July 1 tax credit cut, warning that could result in a "significant retracement" in deliveries in the third quarter.
Tesla did not repeat its prior forecast that it would post a second-quarter loss but return to profit in the third quarter.
A big challenge for Tesla has been how to deliver its vehicles efficiently and swiftly to customers around the world. An improved system for logistics helped in the second quarter, Tesla said, without providing more detail.
In prior quarters, Tesla has diverted employees from all parts of the company to help with deliveries in an all-hands-on-deck effort to meet delivery goals. That has proved to be an expensive and inefficient way to meet targets, which reduces potential profit margins on each vehicle.
The delivery numbers included 10,600 vehicles that had been in transit at the end of the first quarter.
The company has pledged to deliver 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles in 2019, a goal many analysts predict will be difficult to meet.
Overall, total production rose 13% to 87,048 vehicles compared with the first quarter. The company churned out 72,531 Model 3s in the second quarter, up from a total of 62,950 Model 3s in the preceding quarter.
Tesla said that going forward, it would no longer disclose how many vehicles were in transit at the end of each quarter due to production changes that made the number less relevant. At the end of the second quarter, over 7,400 vehicles were in transit.
(Reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)