Tesla earned $1.6 billion in Q3 as car sales surged
By Neal E. Boudette
Tesla made $1.6 billion in the three months ended in September, the second quarter in a row that its profit has exceeded the billion-dollar mark.
The bottom-line figure exceeded the $1.1 billion it made in the second quarter and was nearly five times its total from the third quarter of 2020.
The automaker reported a big jump in revenue, to $13.8 billion from $8.8 billion a year ago, as sales of the Model Y continue to rise in the United States, China and Europe. The company delivered 241,000 cars to customers in the quarter, up from 140,000 a year ago.
A portion of Tesla’s profit comes from selling regulatory credits to other automakers that need the credits to meet emission standards. Tesla reported $279 million in sales of such credits in the third quarter, compared with $397 million in the third quarter of 2020.
The strong earnings report indicates consumers are still flocking to Tesla even as the company faces questions about the safety of its Autopilot driver-assistance system and established automakers roll out electric cars and trucks.
Autopilot, a computerized system that uses cameras and sensors to steer, brake and accelerate cars on its own, is the subject of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top federal auto-safety regulator. The agency is looking into whether Autopilot fails to see parked police cars and other emergency vehicles with flashing lights. The agency has identified 12 accidents in which Teslas operating in Autopilot mode crashed into emergency vehicles.
Tesla recently sent a software update to Autopilot-equipped cars that is supposed to improve detection of emergency vehicles. The traffic safety agency asked Tesla to provide extensive data about the fix and to explain why it did not initiate a safety recall before distributing the update.
Until recently, the traffic safety agency had come under criticism for a lax approach to regulating new technologies such as Autopilot and self-driving cars. On Tuesday, the Biden administration appointed a Duke University expert in self-driving technology, Mary Cummings, to a senior auto-safety post at the federal agency, signaling Tesla may face tougher scrutiny.
Cummings has criticized Autopilot, noting the system does not effectively monitor drivers to make sure they are paying attention to the road. In a message posted on Twitter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday that Cummings was “extremely biased” against Tesla.
Tesla also does not appear to have lost many customers to competitors. Ford Motor began selling its Mustang Mach E, an electric sport-utility vehicle, but its sales have been modest by the standards of the Model Y, because the global shortage of computer chips has disrupted production for most auto manufacturers. Rivian, a startup considered a potential rival to Tesla, has started producing an electric pickup truck, but it has only delivered a small number to customers; the company won’t say how many.
Porsche, a German automaker owned by Volkswagen Group, has made inroads against Tesla with its Taycan electric sports car. In the first three quarters of this year, Porsche has sold more than 28,000 Taycans, which starts at about $82,000, in the same ballpark as a Tesla Model S or Model X. By comparison, Tesla sold 13,000 S and X vehicles.