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Tesla second-quarter deliveries trounce Wall Street expectations—and its bigger rivals

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Tesla continued its long, barely interrupted streak of outperforming Wall Street’s predictions, announcing Thursday morning that it had delivered 90,650 total vehicles in the second quarter of the year. The consensus estimate among stock analysts was 72,149 total deliveries according to Factset, and 83,071 as calculated by Bloomberg.

The electric carmaker’s stock careened up 9% in premarket trading on the announcement—another event that is becoming routine. This morning’s report included only raw delivery numbers, and Tesla’s financial results for the second quarter, including key measures of profitability, will be reported in late July.

The beat, of course, is particularly notable because it comes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. That has constrained Tesla’s ability to produce cars, even as a global economic slowdown tamped down consumers’ eagerness for big new purchases. On the production side, Tesla managed to produce 82,272 total units in the second quarter, compared to 102,672 in the first quarter.

Tesla says it delivered 80,050 of its mid-market Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, and 10,600 of its S and X luxury models. That continues a long trend of decline for the luxury models, which are more profitable on a per-unit basis: Tesla delivered 12,200 S and Xs in the first quarter of this year, and 17,400 in the third quarter of 2019.

Tesla hasn’t completely escaped the gravity of the coronavirus—the overall delivery numbers were down nearly 5% from the same period last year. But Tesla appears to have solidly outperformed established carmakers: Ford reported a 33% year-over-year decline in U.S. sales on Thursday, while GM reported a 34% drop and Fiat Chrysler’s slumped 38.6%.

That’s not an entirely apples-to-apples comparison, because Tesla’s numbers also include sales in China, where its new Model 3 factory reached full production earlier this year. Tesla registration numbers in the country dropped by as much as 46% during the initial coronavirus wave there, with just 3,563 vehicles registered in January. But by May, China started to bounce back from coronavirus, and so did Tesla’s numbers: 11,095 locally-made Model 3s were reported sold there for the month.

While China has been a crucial cushion, Tesla’s success also came partly from its defiance of mandated coronavirus control measures in the United States. Most dramatically, it reportedly continued producing cars at its Fremont, Calif. factory against local orders mandating the shutdown of nonessential businesses during the pandemic’s initial surge. On a fiery earnings call in early May, CEO Elon Musk referred to the lockdown orders as “fascist.” A few days later, Tesla filed suit against Alameda County, where the factory is located, and where local authorities had repeatedly insisted it should not be making cars. Alameda County appears to have since backed down on enforcing its order.

Workers at the plant have staged protests against lax safety measures, and several tested positive for the virus. In late June, two workers told the Washington Post they had been fired for staying home during the height of the pandemic, despite assurances from Musk that they weren’t obligated to work.

After financial results are reported later this month, Tesla’s next big milestone is expected to be a major event previewing its highly anticipated battery development efforts. The event is anticipated to detail innovations that allow batteries to last longer, possibly at a lower production cost. Musk recently announced that the event was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15.

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