In some cases, cars have been marked — with a bar-coded sticker or with grease pencil on the windshield — to indicate that they are inventory vehicles, meaning they have no customers awaiting them. Some markings indicate repairs required before the cars can be sold, like scratches, dents or components that don't work.
That was the case with cars in a lot in Scottsdale, Ariz., that was photographed in mid-September by The New York Times.
Mr. Arnold, the Tesla spokesman, declined to explain why those cars were being stockpiled and how they figured into the company's production numbers.
In the rush to ramp up Model 3 production, Tesla has faced growing issues with vehicle quality. Some customers have complained that cars arrived with scratches, loose parts and other manufacturing defects.
Over the summer, Tesla advertised online for technicians to repair vehicles coming off the assembly line, suggesting that a significant number needed reworking.
That may dovetail with a new headache that has cropped up: severe shortages of replacement parts. Some owners needing collision repairs have complained of waiting a month or longer for new bumpers, centers, door panels and taillights to arrive.
Tesla said recently that a solution was on the way: a chain of proprietary body shops to speed repairs.
Gabe Hoffman, general partner at Accipiter Capital Management, a hedge fund that has shorted Tesla stock, said he was skeptical that the company would follow through. "It would be spending money they don't have," he said.
The long wait for parts suggests that Tesla has none or very few on hand. "To me, that shows a company in financial crisis," Mr. Hoffman said.
Some answers may be on the way. In the coming days Tesla is expected to report production and delivery data for the last three months. A closer look at the company will come in about a month when it presents its third-quarter earnings. It's a report the Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to scrutinize.
Tesla made a big deal out of its Solar Roof in 2016, but two years later it has barely shipped any