Tesla’s Profits Plunge 44% After Big Price Cuts

Tesla’s profit slumped in the third quarter, disappointing Wall Street expectations, after the carmaker cut prices to maintain its dominance of the market for electric vehicles.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, also dashed hopes that a new model called the Cybertruck would quickly revive earnings, warning that the pickup truck would take at least 18 months to become profitable after it goes on sale at the end of November.

The company reported a net profit of $1.9 billion from July through September, a 44 percent drop from the $3.3 billion Tesla made in the same three-month period a year earlier.

Saying he wanted to “temper expectations,” Mr. Musk warned on Wednesday during a conference call with financial analysts and investors that “there will be enormous challenges in reaching volume production with Cybertruck and making the Cybertruck cash flow positive.”

He added, “The blood, sweat and tears that will be required to achieve that is just staggering.”

The company has slashed car prices by around 25 percent in the United States during the last year, putting the priority on sales rather than profit. The least expensive version of Tesla’s best selling car, the Model Y sport-utility vehicle, now starts at $44,000 before government incentives, or roughly as much as the comparable Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid, which has an electric motor and a gasoline engine.

“We continue to believe that an industry leader needs to be a cost leader,” Tesla said in a statement.

Despite the cuts, Tesla’s share of the electric vehicle market in the United States slumped to 50 percent in the third quarter from 60 percent in the first quarter, according to Kelley Blue Book. BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, General Motors and other automakers have been introducing new electric vehicles at a rapid clip, eroding Tesla’s dominance.

Tesla is also facing stiffer competition in China and Europe, two large markets for battery-powered cars, from local automakers.

Analysts had expected a decline in profit after Tesla said earlier this month that sales fell in the third quarter because of temporary factory shutdowns to retool assembly lines at factories in Austin, Texas, and Shanghai. But the slump was greater than expected.

At least until recently, Tesla was more profitable than established U.S. automakers, allowing it to cut prices. “I view it as a way to defend market share at the expense of margin,” said Kevin Roberts, director of industry insights and analytics at CarGurus, an online auto sales site.

The company may not be able to continue cutting prices indefinitely. Its net profit margin in the third quarter was 8 percent, in line with that of traditional carmakers.

Investors had been hoping that the Cybertruck pickup would revive sales. The company said Wednesday that it expected to begin deliveries of the vehicle on Nov. 30, two years behind schedule.

Mr. Musk acknowledged that Tesla was facing severe challenges mass producing the vehicle, which has an unusual stainless-steel body. The material resists rust and does not need to be painted, but is much more difficult to shape and weld.

“We dug our own grave with Cybertruck,” Mr. Musk said.

Ford Motor, Rivian and General Motors have reported lackluster sales of electric pickup trucks after an initial surge in customer interest, suggesting that the market for such vehicles may not be quite as big as industry executives and analysts had once thought. This week, G.M. said it would delay by a year plans to start producing electric pickups at a factory in Michigan, and Ford said it was slowing production of its F-150 Lightning truck.

Mr. Musk insisted that demand for the Cybertruck was “off the charts” and that more than one million people have placed orders. But he noted that higher interest rates have led to higher monthly loan payments, reducing consumers’ ability to buy new cars.

“We have to make it at a price that people can afford,” he said.

Tesla could benefit if the United Automobile Workers strike against Ford, G.M. and Stellantis expands to more factories. So far, workers at six plants owned by the three companies have walked off the job. Tesla workers do not belong to a union.

Tesla’s stock price, which fell nearly 5 percent in regular trading on Wednesday, was down another 3 percent in extended trading after Mr. Musk’s conference call.

“I’m not saying things will be bad,” he said of the economy, “but I’m saying they might be.”

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