The Truth About Cars » accounting The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » accounting Analysis: Tesla Q1 2013 Results Thu, 09 May 2013 20:29:29 +0000 Tesla-Model-S. Photo courtesy

Tesla Motors, Inc. released its first quarter financial results yesterday, which featured a number of milestones for the auto maker. Among them, Tesla’s revenue rose 83% from the last quarter to $562 million, a record high for the company.

Tesla also posted the first ever profitable quarter in its history, with a net income of $11 million, or $0.10 on a per share basis. This large growth in revenue was largely aided by the fact that Tesla was able to recognize revenue on 4,900 out of the 5,000 Model S vehicles it managed to produce in the quarter. It is worth noting that $68 million, or 12% of Tesla’s revenue was earned through the sale of Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) credits to other automakers. Tesla notes in its letter to shareholders that they expect the sale of ZEV credits to decline in the future, and expect the amount to reach $0 by Q4 2013. Tesla’s move away from the sale these credits and towards growing the sale of their automobiles demonstrates their confidence in projected global demand of 30,000+ units annually. An improvement in their gross margin, which has moved up from 8% to 17%, is also an extremely important factor in their profitability.

One would expect that Tesla has settled down and is beginning to ramp up their production of the Model S while continuing to lower its costs through managing its supply chain and reaching economies of scale. After all, management reaffirmed its guidance of a gross margin of 25% for Q4 2013. In the Outlook section of the letter, Tesla explains that it expects increases in operating, research and development (R&D), and selling general and administrative expenses (SG&A).

Some of these costs may naturally rise in proportion to sales volumes. However, as Tesla fights an uphill battle to expand their gross margin, it cannot lose sight of controlling its fixed costs. Total Operating Expenses currently amount to 18% of sales. Any increase to this amount threatens to eat up any profitability that Tesla might achieve through an increase in gross margin. From a profitability standpoint, the ideal situation would be one in which Tesla could achieve its margin of 25% on its vehicles, while simultaneously taking advantage of its increase in production to achieve economies of scale and decrease operating expenses.

The most interesting line item on Tesla’s quarterly income statement is “Other Income.” Upon examining the statement solely on an operations level, one would notice that Tesla has posted a loss from operations of -$5.5 million. How could Tesla post a net income, yet be posting a deficit through its operations? One need only take a look at the line item “Other Income”, for a better picture. Other Income has a balance of $17 million, $11 million of which is from the elimination of a common stock warrant liability to the Department of Energy, and the remainder is from favorable foreign currency exchange impacts. Both of these items are irregular, specifically the liability elimination, in the fact that they will not likely happen year to year, and are not generated through the company’s regular operations. The liability elimination is also a non-cash item. To get a real sense of how Tesla performed, Other Income can be removed from the income statement (see Figure 1). The result is a net loss of $5.7 million for the quarter. It’s clear that there is still much work to be done before Tesla is truly profitable based on its operations. These types of irregular items cannot be relied upon to achieve profitability every quarter.


Figure 1(in millions)


Perhaps a more relevant dataset is Tesla’s non-GAAP figures. The non-GAAP figures, which are intend to be used by management for internal purposes, can sometimes more accurately reflect a company’s performance on the interim, without being hindered by stringent accounting regulations. Figure 2 displays Tesla’s reconciliation of Net Income from GAAP to non-GAAP.

Figure 2 (in millions)


The non-GAAP measure of Net Income is slightly higher than the GAAP reporting, at approximately $15 million. Non-GAAP starts with the GAAP reported income of $11 million. Notice how almost $11 million is subtracted from net income in “Change in fair value of warrant liability.” This represents the Department of Energy liability elimination mentioned earlier. What Tesla is doing here is effectively removing this amount from its GAAP net income, not unlike the similar calculation done above. Tesla has management has realized that this liability is a large contributor to its profits, and has removed it to create a figure more representative of its operational profitability.

The next item is stock-based compensation expense. This amount was originally included in “Total cost of revenues.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, an article by Ian Gow, an assistant professor of accounting information and management at Northwestern’s Kellog School of Management, explains it as stock options that are granted to employees. Gow explains that recently accounting standards have required companies to disclose stock-based compensation expenses, as Tesla has done by including it in cost of revenue. The article continues to elaborate that stock-based compensation expense is an area for managers to manipulate accounting data in order for them to reach their targets or benchmarks. The accounting for this type of expense becomes increasingly tricky when considering that it is a non-cash expense. While it is harder for management to toy around with this expense due to revisions to GAAP, Tesla has elected to add this expense back to their net income in its non-GAAP reporting. This is not an attempt to discredit the integrity of Tesla’s management, rather to illustrate the importance that non-GAAP figure must be taken with a grain of salt.

Regardless, Tesla has made huge strides in its earnings. Just last quarter (Q4 2012) Tesla posted a net loss of almost $90 million. Accountants and analysts can debate the significance of line items for eternity, the larger point being that of an upward trend for Tesla. In Q2 it will be interesting to see is Tesla can build on its profitability, or fall back into the red without the help of irregular account balances.

All figures taken from Tesla’s SEC Filing

Graeme Kreindler is an HBA Candidate at the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario. 

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Aptera Ouster And Product Delay Confirmed Wed, 18 Nov 2009 20:12:25 +0000 Leaving on a jet plane? (

After we posted our take on the reported ouster of EV startup Aptera’s founders, Popular Mechanics jumped in to deny the charge. The magazine dutifully reported that Aptera’s founders had conveniently decided to take a vacation, unquestioningly citing the assertions of Aptera CFO Marques McCammon. But it seems the underlying conflict– whether to go to market with the existing product or cut costs while waiting for federal funding to produce a redesigned vehicle– has been resolved in favor of Aptera’s new auto industry insiders. A company press release confirms that the 2e has been delayed until 2010, indicating that the lack of federal funding (or some unanticipated private investment) is the stumbling point. The situation with Aptera’s founders, however, is still something of a mystery. And it’s not the only curiosity to be dredged out of Aptera during this challenging interlude.

Aptera CEO Paul Wilbur explains in the company press release:

“Because of this production delay, we’ve unfortunately been forced to lay off some hard working employees. It’s a strategy to streamline our spending to hone in on the items that advance our fundraising and completion of our first vehicle.

“Additionally as part of this plan, co-founder Chris Anthony is stepping aside from day-to-day activities to concentrate on his two other companies, Epic Boats and Flux Power.”

Aptera’s other co-founder, Steve Fambro, who started tinkering with the idea of building an aerodynamic vehicle five years ago, is taking a short leave of absence and will re-engage with the company in the new year.

“Right now my advanced work is a lower priority for Aptera,” said Fambro, the company’s Chief Technical Officer who directs all advanced concept development activities. “We’ve got to be wholly focused on funding and getting the first 2e on the road.

Meanwhile, the rule that drama seems to beget more drama is proving true. “S.Hval” sent us a tip on a rumor swirling around the ApteraForum, centering on company CFO Laura Marrion. Though you wouldn’t know it from her official bio (which only lists experience at Saleen and Specialty Vehicles Acquisition Corp), Marrion was fined $40k by the SEC for her role in Delphi’s $700m accounting fraud. Marrion came into the company with Wilbur and a number of other industry insiders, and though there’s no evidence that there’s monkey business going on in bookkeeping, her role in the Delphi fraud isn’t helping Aptera’s true believers deal with the loss of the company’s founders.

Adding to the drama is the fact that fans have found that Aptera’s news feed has been modified to eliminate all signs of bad news. EV startups, especially those with quirky designs like Aptera’s, are fueled by the passion of enthusiasts who are willing to overlook all kinds of downsides in order to get what they believe to be bleeding-edge vehicles. At this point, bringing in Detroit insiders is not looking like a good way to build on that enthusiasm.

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GM’s Monday Earnings Report: Mind The GAAP Thu, 12 Nov 2009 22:18:55 +0000 Mind the obvious pun! (courtesy:infinibeam)

Were you looking forward to GM’s first post-bankruptcy financial report, set to be released on Monday? We sure were. Right up until we read that the earning statement won’t be compliant with a little something called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Automotive News [sub] reports that GM will use so-called “managerial accounting,” (do we have an accountant in the house?) until Q1 2010 results are filed using SEC-approved “fresh start accounting.” The SEC is apparently aware that GM is still transitioning to the post-bankruptcy accounting system, and has reportedly approved GM’s timetable for compliance. Meanwhile, GM’s 3rd quarter results will be announced in two parts, for the period it was in bankruptcy (June 1- June 9) and after (June 10- September 30). GM’s spokesperson is kind enough to explain:

In some cases, it’s not comparable to do a year-to-year comparison. Anything with a cost component to it, won’t be comparable. For sales and revenue, it will be comparable. It’s going to be kind of complicated this time around. There’s no way around that. It’s not a standard situation.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens? You try and you try to be transparent, and then your financial results come out all unintelligible because it takes the better part of a year to switch accounting systems. No wonder Whitacre is downplaying talk of a Summer 2010 IPO.

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