Tesla's latest New Zealand sales revealed

PLUS: NBR snoops on the company's in-progress Auckland service centre and showroom, and uncovers an opening date; Elon Musk announces deep staff cuts.
Elon Musk mocks his critics on Twitter (via @ElonMusk).

Tesla has managed impressive New Zealand sales, despite its pedestrian temporary digs and lack of advertising so far.

In 2017, its sales increased month by month and it finished the year with 244 Teslas sold – making it easily the best-selling brand in the pure EV category that saw 546 sales overall in this nascent market (according to Motor Vehicle Industry records of new vehicle registrations; the MIA's stats do not include second-hand imports, such as the Nissan Leaf).

And Tesla has started 2018 on a similar note, with its Model S ($121,395 to $214,6450 and Model X ($121,345 to as much as $244,345) outselling much cheaper EVs such as Hyundai's IONIQ.

In the Motor Vehicle Industry Association's most recent statistics, for the year to May 31, Tesla has sold 115 cars (66 Model S, 49 Model X) ahead of Hyundai (89), VW (60), BMW (16), Renault (6) and Ford (1) – and Hyundai was nowhere until it sold 52 vehicles last month (the Korean company's IONIQ, which sells from $58,000 has benefited from being the EV of choice for a major buyer, Auckland Council).

All up 287 new pure EVs have been sold in the year to May 31.

That compares with 22 petrol-extended vehicles, 270 plug-in petrol hybrids (such as the Volvo XC90) and 989 petrol hybrids (such as the Toyota Prius) over the same period.

EV sales are essentially flat against the first half of 2017 at a time when they still make a tiny slice of the market.

And the overall context is that 159,184 new vehicles were registered in the first five months of the year.

Petrol tax could boost sales
The electric vehicle (EV) incentives package introduced by the previous government included a couple of attractive perks for prospective buyers, including an exemption from road user charges (until EVs reach 2% of cars on the road) and the ability to drive in bus and T2 lanes (you have to have a plug-in vehicle to qualify; petrol hybrids like the Prius are excluded).

And now Auckland conventional car owners now have an extra incentive to switch to an EV: avoiding the 10c/litre regional fuel tax.

Big wait for affordable Tesla
But while there is no shortage of demand in New Zealand, and worldwide, for Tesla's vehicles, the company continues to be plagued by production issues.

Telsa says its backlog exceeded 450,000 orders in the first quarter.

American buyers have to wait up to 12 months if they order the latest model, the relatively low-cost Model 3 (which sells from $US35,000) today.

For Kiwis, pick a number. Production of right-hand drive Model 3s was supposed to begin this month. It will now begin at some time next year.

Trouble at mill
The assembly line's problems are being addressed, and production is ramping up, but the trouble so far has led to huge cost over-runs.

This morning NZT, founder and chief executive Elon Musk said about 3500 people, or  9% of Telsa's worldwide staff, would be let go.

The layoffs follow a $US710 million quarterly loss (the company's fifth quarter in a row in the red)  as cash burn increased by $US112m.

Revenue jumped 31% to $US3.4 billion vs $US2.6b in the first quarter of 2017 (most of Tesla's revenue still comes from cars; solar chipped in $US410m).

Tesla finished the quarter with $US2.7b in the bank.

Shares rose 3% on the quarterly result announced yesterday, and were up another 0.57% today, as investors were encouraged by the belt-tightening, plus news that Tesla had increased production to 5000 vehicles per week.

If it maintains that pace, with its trimmed-down workforce, it will be profitable by the third or fourth quarter this year, Mr Musk says.

Meanwhile, the Tesla founder has struggled with his temper at times. He hung up on a conference call with analysts after deeming their questions "boring," and did the same to the chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board during a reportedly fractious phone call about a fatal Model X crash, where it is arguing over whether the driver or assisted-driving technology was at fault.

Showroom and service centre close to opening
Meanwhile, Tesla seems poised to finally open its Auckland showroom and service centre in July.

The 2019sq m centre will feature Tesla's cars, plus its home batteries. 

Tesla set up shop in New Zealand early last year, first operating out of a pop-up store in the old Ponsonby fire station before moving to a small, functional space beside McDonald's on Great North Rd.

Tesla has always been wary of giving an exact opening date but floor staff spoken to by NBR were first expecting a June 2018 opening, then December.

Today, Tesla declined comment but NBR did a walk around the new service centre at 501 Karangahape Rd, or at least as close as chainlink fencing would allow. A neighbouring business owner said they had been told the showroom and service centre would open in July. That looked do-able.

Things seemed to be near a finishing touches phase, if not looking quite as flash as the artist's impression released to media in November 2017.

If you know the neighbourhood, it's part of a new development on the site of the old Telecom HQ, with access via Hereford St.

An artist's impression of Tesla's new digs (above) vs the actual project (below).

The rear entrance via Hereford St, which appears to be nearing completion.

Super Chargers (which will deliver a half-charge in 30 minutes) have been a sore point for at least one local Tesla owner, failed all-EV taxi company owner Bernard Brommell. 

Since NBR last checked in, in February, a third Super Charger has been added, in Palmerston North, joining chargers in Auckland and Taupo. Tesla won't give a timetable for further expansion (see its charger map, which includes slower "destination" chargers in carparks and the like, here).

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