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Tesla's battery plans overshadow earnings

Forty-five minutes into a conference call with analysts to discuss first-quarter earnings, Tesla CEO Elon Musk decided to share some eagerly awaited news about the company's highly anticipated Model 3 sedan.

"We will show the Model 3 next March," said Musk. "And our plan is to begin production of the Model 3 in late 2017."

Ordinarily, an announcement like that would generate a flurry of tweets among the lovers and haters of Tesla.

Not this time. No, during this earnings call, the Model 3 was a side note.

Tesla S automobiles
Reuters
Tesla S automobiles

What dominated the Tesla earnings call were questions about the company's plan to build and sell battery powered stationary storage units. Tesla Powerwalls for homeowners and Tesla Powerpacks for businesses and utilities were unveiled last week to the usual fanfare that accompanies product unveilings by Mr. Musk. At the time, details were limited. So during the earnings conference call, analysts pressed Musk.

What's been the reaction from consumers?

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"It's been crazy. We have received reservations for more than 38,000 Powerwalls since we made the announcement," said Musk "There's no way we could possibly satisfy the demand this year."

What are the profit margins on the stationary storage units?

"This is just a guess right now, but maybe somewhere around 20%," said Musk. Of course, that would by the profit margin for stationary storage products once the company hits mass production at the Gigafactory in 2017.

What percentage of the lithium-ion battery production will go stationary storage products and how much will go to Tesla electric vehicles?

Even though cars will get the priority over batteries, stationary storage could wind up taking much of the Gigafactory's capacity.

Musk sums it up by adding, "It feels like the stationary storage demand is just nutty."

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You get the point.

While Tesla is in the midst of a critical year for its vehicles – the Model S and soon the Model X SUV – it's the battery business that is grabbing the spotlight right now.

Skeptics will say Musk is using the stationary storage business to distract investors from asking hard questions about the Model X and the Model 3.

The fact is, those questions have been difficult and will be asked. But for now, Tesla's battery biz is the focus for many on Wall Street.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.