Tesla Motors (TSLA - Get Report) delivered its best quarterly sales figure in its short history, responding to an August rallying cry by CEO Elon Musk to improve performance ahead of a planned capital raise.
Tesla said over the weekend that it delivered about 24,500 vehicles during the third quarter, double the same period a year prior and on pace toward its goal of 50,000 deliveries in the second half of the year. The deliveries came in 37% above second quarter 2016.
The strong number should help Tesla as it seeks to raise new capital, likely before year's end, to fund development of its forthcoming Model 3 sedan. Musk, in an August 29 email to employees, urged workers to focus on "building and delivering every car we possibly can," saying "the third quarter will be our last chance to show investors that Tesla can be at least slightly positive cash flow and profitable before the Model 3 reaches full production."
The automaker hopes to have the Model 3 in production by the end of 2017.
While the sales goals were reached, profitability -- and in particular GAAP profitability -- is another matter. Tesla's sales were helped in part by the introduction of a lower-cost Model S that some analysts believe likely cost the automaker about as much to manufacture as its higher-priced cousins, potentially eating into margins.
There has also been substantial chatter about Tesla heavily discounting vehicles to juice sales, with Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brad Erickson in a note last week questioning overall demand for Tesla vehicles and saying the company is using "various discounting mechanisms" to reach its sales goals. Musk last week said "corrective action" had been taken to stop discounting, implying that at least some margin-slicing tactics had been employed during the quarter.
There is also some indication that Tesla has been harvesting its 300,000-plus Model 3 waiting list trying to find buyers for the Model S. If so, there is risk that the company could be borrowing from future sales to make its number this quarter.
But the number -- if nothing else -- shows that well-publicized scrutiny over the company's Autopilot technology following a fatal crash earlier this year has not scared off consumers, a good sign for Tesla ahead of the Model 3 launch. And bulls can make a fairly compelling argument that the most important thing for Tesla to do right now is keep sales going and bridge the gap between now and the launch of the Model 3, so discounting for now can be overlooked.
The company still has a lot on its plate. Tesla is expected to return to markets in the months to come seeking billions in new capital to continue product development and fund construction of its Nevada battery factory and continued growth of its retail and charger networks. It is also attempting to close its planned $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity (SCTY) , a solar panel installation firm that like Tesla counts Musk as a major shareholder.
Tesla hopes to have a shareholder vote on the SolarCity deal this month, but there is growing concern that questions about the deal and potential conflicts between the two companies, including a number of shareholder lawsuits and a customary regulatory review, could delay that timetable.
It is uncertain how a SolarCity delay would impact the timing of a secondary offering, if at all, though Tesla would presumably need less capital if the money-losing target is not added to the balance sheet.