Electric-car maker Tesla delivered a record 97,000 vehicles globally during the third quarter, an impressive milestone that still fell short of investor expectations and set a tough hurdle for CEO Elon Musk to meet his year-end goals.
The company's stock tumbled by more than 3% in after-hours trading on the news Wednesday.
The company bested its last delivery record of 95,200 electric vehicles set during the second quarter and just missed Wall Street's expectations of 99,000 deliveries during the three months ended Monday, according to average estimates compiled by FactSet.
Tesla's deliveries are a closely watched number in the industry, providing the closest proximation to sales. It tracks vehicles that have been sold and physically delivered to customers. The number is a barometer for how the company is performing ahead of releasing its quarterly earnings.
Tesla said it delivered 79,600 Model 3 cars and 17,400 Model S and X vehicles during the third quarter. That compares with 55,840 Model 3s and 27,660 Model S and X vehicles in the third quarter of 2018. Deliveries of the more expensive and aging Model S and X vehicles accounted for 18% of deliveries in the third quarter, about the same as the previous quarter but a sharp decline from the 33% they represented a year ago.
Tesla produced 96,155 vehicles in the third quarter, including nearly 79,900 Model 3s, which accounted for 83% of the company's production in the third quarter.
Tesla has told shareholders to expect deliveries this year to fall between 360,000 and 400,000 vehicles, a 45% to 65% increase from 2018. That target remains possible if the company can deliver about 105,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter. Analysts, according to FactSet, currently expect the company to deliver 106,000 units.
Tesla, in a release announcing the sales, said it achieved "record net orders in Q3 and are entering Q4 with an increase in our order backlog." It also said it continues to "focus on increasing production to meet that demand."
In a push to make its delivery numbers, Tesla adjusted its Model 3 prices often, and in September, offered customers 2 years of free supercharging and other incentives.
Deliveries increased 16.2% compared with a year ago and 1.9% over the second quarter — an impressive feat as the global auto industry softens and it loses a federal tax credit for buyers. That credit, which could be applied toward the sales price of an electric car, was previously worth $7,500 but was cut in half after Tesla hit 200,000 in total sales and is slated to soon be reduced to $1,875. The credit will be completely phased out for Tesla in the first quarter of 2020.
Tesla has long struggled to hit CEO Elon Musk's aggressive production and sales targets.
Musk set expectations high again this quarter, telling employees in a recent email that the company "has a shot" at delivering 100,000 cars, which would set a new record. Shares of Tesla jumped more than 5% after electric vehicle news website Electrek reported the email last week.
This year, Tesla began sales and deliveries to customers in further reaches than ever before. It now sells electric vehicles in China, Australia, Taiwan, the U.K., and several markets in Eastern Europe, including in Poland and Hungary.
Tesla ships its cars from the U.S. to major markets, most notably China, where authorities exempted its electric cars from a 10% purchase tax at the end of August. Equity research firm JL Warren Capital expected orders in China to spike after that, in September, but cautioned shareholders that it would take time for those orders to translate into completed deliveries.
The company compiles its own Wall Street estimates, which officials say are a more robust measure because it tracks forecasts by 21 analysts. Those forecasts predicted Tesla's deliveries would average 94,422 during the third quarter with a median estimate of 98,250 deliveries, according to a company spokesman. FactSet's deliveries forecast was based this quarter on average estimates from 12 different analysts.