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Tesla Sees Its First Profit in First Quarter

A Tesla Motors Inc. vehicle is displayed during the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Tesla Motors Inc. vehicle is displayed during the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.

Tesla Motors said it expects to realize its first profit in the first quarter of 2013, after posting a net loss of $89.9 million in the fourth quarter.

The electric-car maker, founded by Elon Musk, went public in 2010 and since then has narrowed its losses as production of the Model S sedan ramped up late last year.

The fourth-quarter loss of $0.79 per share came on revenue of $306 million. Full-year revenue was $413 million, with a loss of $396 million, or $3.69 per share.

Tesla closed down $0.74 at $38.54 on Wednesday, before the earnings announcement, after rising nearly 18 percent since its Dec. 31 close of $33.87. In after-hours trading, the stock dropped as low as $35.55.

In January, CEO Musk said Tesla hoped to earn a quarterly profit later this year.

In its earnings release after U.S. markets closed Wednesday, the company amended that timetable, saying, "We expect to be slightly profitable (excluding only non-cash option and warrant-related expenses) in Q1 2013."

Tesla also it expects to be "near breakeven on cash flow" in the first quarter.

The carmaker, based in Palo Alto, California, said it plans to deliver more than 20,000 Model S sedans this year, with sales rising higher in 2014 as the car is introduced in new markets outside North America.

Tesla said it sold 2,650 Model S sedans in 2012, most of them in the fourth quarter.

Tesla plans to begin selling the Model S in Europe this summer and in Asia this fall.

Musk in January said the company had reached its target production rate for the Model S of 20,000 a year and expects to launch the Model X, a luxury crossover built on the Model S platform, in the second half of 2014, with a smaller, less expensive sedan code-named Genn III to follow in 2015-2016.

The automaker, founded by Musk, went public in 2010. The Model S is the company's second electric vehicle, after the two-passenger Roadster sports car. The Model S, which went into production last June, starts at nearly $60,000 before a federal tax credit, with stickers ranging to more than $105,000.

The company said it is reducing production costs while boosting gross margins, with a target of 25-percent margins by year-end.

Tesla said it made its first loan repayment of $12.7 million last quarter to the U.S. Department of Energy, with a second payment due in March. The automaker received $465 million in low-interest loans from the DOE.

The Model S continues to attract considerable attention from prospective customers - including a reservations list that stood at more than 15,000 at year-end - and the media.

Musk last week took to Twitter to dispute a critical Feb. 8 review by New York Times reporter John Broder that said the Tesla Model S sedan ran out of battery power sooner than promised during a chilly winter test drive.

Musk tweeted that the Times test was a "fake," which the publication challenged and Broder refuted in a followup story.

Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on Monday said Broder took "casual and imprecise notes" of his test drive and did not exercise good judgment, but noted that vehicle data logs reproduced by Musk on Tesla's website were "sometimes quite misleading."

Sullivan concluded that "there is still plenty to argue about and few conclusions that are unassailable."

In a blog post Tuesday, Musk countered that the Times "reversed its opinion" of the Model S and "no longer believes that it was an accurate account of what happened."

During a conference call Wednesday with analysts, Musk said Tesla is planning to add more battery charging stations and improve the technology of its Supercharger system this year.

On Tuesday, CNBC's Phil LeBeau recreated the test drive from Washington, DC to Boston.

(Read More: Why the Tesla S May Be a Game-Changer)

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