Tesla shares drop as investors worry Model 3 will be too good

The man who called $300 Tesla
The man who called $300 Tesla

Tesla shares have taken a dive, a day after the company posted a wider-than-expected loss, amid concerns that its upcoming Model 3 release is hurting sales of its Model S, and possibly the X.

Tesla shares shed more than 4 percent Thursday, and were recently trading at around $296.

A decline in customer deposits suggests that demand for Model S and Model X cars may be tapering off, analysts said. That perception was heightened by comments the company made both on its earnings call and in its letter to shareholders.

That concern combined with continued cash burn suggests the company's finances may be squeezed as it moves further toward developing its Model 3, a less expensive sedan aimed at a mass market.

"We believe investors... walk[ed] away from the call somewhat disappointed as management provided little insight on the Model 3 ramp or Model S/X orders," said Cowen analyst Jeff Osborne in a research note.

Tesla said some prospective customers who erroneously believe that the Model 3 sedan will be an improved or superior car to its Model S.

"While the Model 3 looks to be on time for a July launch, commentary around S vs 3 confusion among customers is concerning," Osborne said.

Barclay's analyst Brian Johnson noted that customer deposits were down nearly $50 million. That, plus the company's commentary, "might indicate an Osborne effect in S/X orders," he said.

The "Osborne effect" is when a company's discussion of an upcoming product has a negative effect on sales of current products.

The company has apparently been dealing with this issue for some time, and Tesla executives attempted to correct the misperception in a blog post in early April. But, Elon Musk said on Wednesday's conference call that the information apparently has not trickled down to all prospective customers.

According to Cowen's Osborne, the key concern is "that either the Model 3 will cannibalize Model S sales or that customers who reserved the Model 3 may be disappointed when the final product is not a cheaper, next iteration of the Model S."

In addition, Tesla is expecting demand for Model S and X cars going forward to be around 100,000 cars a year, lower than what some analysts previously expected.

"Demand cracks are forming," said Pacific Crest analyst Brad Erickson, for Model S and Model X.

Erickson wanted more details around the number of orders Tesla was receiving and guidance on Model S and X demand. He also said the company has not "adequately" explained the year-over year drop in orders.

Also, Tesla has already burned through nearly half — about $650 million — of $1.25 billion it raised in its March offering.

Finally, some remain skeptical that Tesla will be able to meet its Model 3 timeline.

Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberinno said he believes demand growth for both of Tesla's current models has tapered off. Tamberinno has a sell rating on the stock, which is "predicated upon a pushed out Model 3 launch curve where we ultimately believe the company will miss its targeted production rates."