Tesla Model 3 challenges and cash burn worries may overshadow delivery numbers

  • Cowen analyst Jeffrey Osborne slashed his estimate for Model 3 production by 75 percent.
  • Tesla's likely "healthy" delivery numbers for its older models could be pushed aside over concerns about Model 3 production and the money the company continues to burn through, Osborne said.

Tesla's Model 3 production challenges and continued cash burn will likely steal attention from solid deliveries of Tesla's other models, said one analyst.

Tesla could announce early this week deliveries of 2,250 Model 3 sedans, Cowen analyst Jeffrey Osborne estimated in a note Tuesday. That would be 75 percent less than Osborne had previously forecast, and well below the 4,000 to 5,000 consensus estimate held by Wall Street that Osborne cited.

The disappointing pace of the Model 3 production ramp-up is likely to distract investors from "healthy" combined delivery numbers on the Model S and X, Osborne said. He estimates 25,250 Model S and X cars were delivered.

What's more, Tesla was originally forecasting it would be producing 5,000 Model 3 sedans each week by the end of the fourth quarter. It later pushed that goal back and said it would achieve that pace by the end of the first quarter.

Tesla shares shot sky-high in 2017, rising about 50 percent, in part on the enthusiasm over the Model 3. On Tuesday, shares were up about 2.5 percent, trading just under $320. Nevertheless, Osborne has an underperform rating on the stock and a $170 price target as competitive threats loom on the horizon and Tesla continues to burn cash.

Osborne said he thinks Tesla burned through $1.2 billion in cash in the fourth quarter, and that the company will yet again need to raise capital in either the first or early second quarter.

"The narrative around high volume manufacturing of the Model 3 and hitting the 25 percent gross margin target will need to be amplified by management in order for investors to digest such a capital raise in our view," he said. "We also hope for more transparency on what Elon Musk's overall vision will truly cost as we believe investors are overlooking many aspects of his total vision and [are] myopically focused on the upcoming quarter or two."

In particular, Tesla may have to spend further at its current factories and make production investments for the Tesla Semi, Roadster and Model Y and a plant in China. This could all add $15 billion to $20 billion in capital expenditures from 2018-2020, he said.