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Tesla Leaking a Trail of Cash

After a gung-ho IPO, the electric car maker shows accelerating losses. Can Elon Musk steer his company back in the right direction?

Tesla Roadster

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When will Tesla Motors stop hemorrhaging money? The electric car pioneer made a splash with its NASDAQ debut last month, shifting up from $17 to $23.89 a share on the first day of trading. But this week Tesla reported a net loss loss of $38.5 million for this quarter–up from $29.5 million in the first quarter of this year.

Tesla assures investors that this hefty net loss is all part of its long-term plan. But it isn’t the only setback this perennial startup has suffered in recent weeks. Founder Elon Musk is said to be out of cash, and ex-wife Justine Musk seems to be angling for a large chunk of Elon’s shares. The company only has $47 million left in the bank, down from $70 million at the end of last year.

For the moment, Tesla doesn’t have anywhere to go but down. Its second electric vehicle, the Model S, won’t be released until 2012. Tesla may have a much-hyped partnership with Toyota and a high-class electric sports car in the Roadster. But it is also saddled with a leader with questionable finances, and a conspicuous vehicle production gap.

Tesla tries to remain chipper in its press release:

“We are very pleased to report higher gross margins and steady top-line
growth, driven by our best quarter for new Roadster orders since the
third quarter of 2008 and our growing powertrain activities,” said Elon
Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors. “The Roadster is showing the world that it is
possible to drive a beautifully designed, high-performance electric
vehicle, underscoring Tesla’s technology leadership position.”

In fact, the company’s best shot at profitability lies in selling a considerable number of Model S EVs the year after next. And at $50,000 a pop for the Model S, Tesla will soon have one more financial demon to battle: sticker shock.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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