Tesla Inc. (TSLA) shares fluctuated Wednesday morning following yet another set of negative headlines surrounding the clean-energy carmaker, including revelations that founder and CEO Elon Musk threatened to leave the group if he was forced to settle fraud charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Musk first told Tesla's board that he would resign his position if he was made to accept the SEC's Sept. 28 charge that his now infamous "take private" Tweet from August 7 was fraudulent. However, in the wake of Tesla's 14% plunge the following day -- and the more than $6 billion in hived from the company's market value, Musk acquiesced to the SEC's demands and accepted a $20 million fine that was matched by an equal amount from Tesla itself.
The paper also reported that some Tesla directors have proposed that James Murdoch, a director at the electric vehicle company and CEO of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) should succeed Musk as chairman. As part of the settlement with the SEC, Musk agreed to not serve as Tesla's chairman for three years.
On Wednesday, Tesla shares opened slightly higher, but were declining 1.4% to $296.66 by late morning.
Murdoch hasn't volunteered for the post nor has he discussed it with any other director, the paper said, while another person close to the selection process told the Times that the board hadn't yet engaged in any "serious" discussions of who should be chairman.
The Times report comes amid news that a U.S. District Judge in San Jose said Tesla must defend two accusations that it violated forced labor laws and exploited foreign workers with long hours and low wages in order to meet its ambitious production targets. The ruling paves the way for a potential class action lawsuit that would add to the myriad legal actions already in place against the Palo Alto, Calf.-based company.
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Tesla did manage to capture some positive headline flow Tuesday when it said it produced 53,239 Model 3s over the third quarter, a substantial gain from 28,578 Model 3 output in the previous three months and within company forecasts of 50,000 to 55,000.
Model 3 production hit 5,300 in the last week of the quarter, the company said, while deliveries of 55,840 Model 3s were slightly below expectations of 56,000.
However, the group also warned the new tariffs on U.S. auto exports to China, which hit 40% over the summer amid the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, would hammer sales in the world's biggest market for clean-energy vehicles.
"Taking ocean transport costs and import tariffs into account, Tesla is now operating at a 55% to 60% cost disadvantage compared to the exact same car locally produced in China," the company said.
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