In one of its latest SEC filings (a prospectus for an offering to fund development of the “Model X” CUV), the EV firm Tesla notes
We currently intend to end the production run of the Tesla Roadster in December 2011, but we will continue to sell the remaining inventory of Tesla Roadsters in the first half of 2012.
The Detroit News notes that, if Tesla keeps its “mid-2012” launch date for its Model S sedan (which was initially supposed to go on sale this year), it will have to endure a six month gap with no new production… and if more delays come, that “dead zone” could extend longer. And though Tesla plans on replacing the money-losing Roadster sometime during or after 2013, that won’t necessarily be easy…
The DetN explains
For the Roadster, Tesla has obtained gliders from Lotus of Britain, which uses the same body for its Elise sports car. But Lotus is retooling for a new Elise, and Tesla’s contract for 2,400 gliders expires at the end of this year. Expanded over a year ago from an earlier deal for 1,700 gliders that would have expired in March, the agreement lets Tesla keep Roadsters in showrooms longer. But the end of the supply of Roadster gliders “sheds light on how Lotus views the relationship,” said Kevin See of Lux Research. If Lotus saw the Roadster and Tesla as an important revenue source, he said, “it would find a way to keep those gliders coming.”
Tesla’s take on the situation (from its last S-1 filing):
We expect 2011 sales of the Tesla Roadster to grow over 2010. We have a supply agreement with Lotus to purchase 2,400 Tesla Roadster vehicles or gliders, and through March 31, 2011, we have delivered approximately 1,650 vehicles to customers. Our present plans do not call for the purchase of materially more than 2,400 gliders from Lotus. We currently intend to manufacture the majority of our gliders with Lotus for our current generation Tesla Roadster until December 2011, and we intend to use these gliders in the manufacturing of the Tesla Roadster to both fulfill orders placed in 2011 as well as new orders placed in 2012 until our supply of gliders is exhausted. Accordingly, we intend to offer a limited number of Tesla Roadsters for sale in 2012. We currently anticipate that sales of the Tesla Roadster in North America will end by the end of 2011 or shortly thereafter.
As we have a limited number of the Tesla Roadster left for sale, we anticipate our automotive sales may decline, potentially significantly, just prior to the launch of our Model S. The launch of our Model S could be delayed for a number of reasons and any such delays may be significant and would extend the period in which we would generate limited revenues from sales of our electric vehicles.
To the extent we wish to sell additional Tesla Roadsters with the Lotus gliders beyond the number of vehicles we have contracted for, we will need to negotiate a new or amended supply agreement with Lotus but may be unable to do so on terms and conditions favorable to us, if at all.
Particularly noteworthy is Tesla’s decision to end US sales of the Roadster this year, and sell the remainder in overseas markets. According to Tesla’s CFO (quoted in the DetN), the firm sold more Roadsters abroad in the first quarter than in the US market, an inversion of the previous dynamic. And we’re already hearing reports that some of Tesla’s US markets, specifically Boulder CO, may be “tapped out” (gee, I wonder why…). In short, the $100k electric sportscar market in the US may not be that much bigger than 1,500-1,600 units. Meanwhile, the fact that Tesla has been selling in Europe since 2009 indicates that Europe could be as tapped out as the US, and that the new international Roadster sales are coming from new markets like Japan and Australia. But then, since the company stubbornly refuses to release any sales data (because Tesla is a real car company… it’s just different), we’ll probably never know.
Meanwhile, Tesla is desperately validating its forthcoming Model S sedan… which has already received a styling refresh. Fans of the firm had better hope that demand for the larger, cheaper electric sedan is quite a bit stronger and more sustainable. Pricing has been tipped at about $60k for a 160-mile range version, $70k for a 230 mile version and $70k+ for a 300 mile version… and while lower prices are nice, shorter ranges might actually limit sales more. Into the unknown!