One of Wall Street's most closely watched Tesla Motors (TSLA) analysts is predicting the automaker's Model 3 will be released more than a year behind schedule, a potentially worrisome development for the company given what it has riding on its new, more affordable model.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas in a note Wednesday said his forecast is for the Model 3 to launch "at the very end of 2018," well after Tesla's stated goal for the vehicle to enter production in mid-2017 and hit volume production by year's end. Jonas also has modest expectations for the launch, predicting the automaker will produce 60,000 units in 2019 and 130,000 units in 2020.
Jonas also said that he expected Tesla to burn through $1.1 billion in 2016 and a similar amount in 2017, forecasting gross cash to fall to just under $1 billion by 2018.
The analyst has an "equal-weight" rating on the shares and a price target of $242. Jonas in recent years has earned a reputation as one of the most bullish analysts on Tesla -- at one point posting a $465 per share target price on the company -- though beginning this summer he has tempered his outlook due to risks associated with company's now-completed $2.6 billion deal for SolarCity.
Shares of Tesla were up about 1.9% Wednesday afternoon to $194.85.
Jonas is far from the only company watcher skeptical about the Tesla Model 3 timeline, but Tesla bulls have argued that even if the Model 3 does end up behind schedule, given its estimated 400,000-strong reservation list, the company can afford a delay and still be successful.
Indeed, a Tesla investor base made up largely of firms and individuals who have bought into the longer-term goals and mission of the company seems unlikely to abandon it even if there is a Model 3 delay as long as the automaker can demonstrate progress toward bringing the vehicle to market as promised.
Jonas seemed sanguine about the company's chances even if there is a delay, writing that "the bigger mission remains developing a sustainable transportation ecosystem" and saying Tesla is well on its way toward developing top-notch self-driving technology and collecting the data necessary to convince regulators and critics that its technology is safe to use.
But the potential delay is but one of a number of concerns still surrounding the Model 3, which has been championed as a vehicle that will bring long-range electric driving to the masses. Mark B. Spiegel, a hedge fund manager and vocal critic of Tesla, in a note this week argued that given what is known about the costs to produce Tesla's current line of vehicles, the automaker will lose a considerable sum if it follows through on its plan to price the forthcoming model starting at $35,000.
Spiegel estimated Tesla spent about $80,000 on each vehicle produced in the third quarter. The Model 3 is expected to be much easier to produce than current models, and there should be substantial savings from using cheaper materials and thanks to a maturing supply chain, but Spiegel believes that even with savings compared with the current quarter costs, the Model 3 base price is likely to be closer to $50,000 when it is released.
Given rival options including the critically acclaimed Chevy Bolt are coming online in the quarters to come with similar ranges and prices, there also is some reason to worry about how patient those on Tesla's Model 3 waiting list will be. Potential issues such as a delay or cost hike to the Model 3 on their own might not be fatal, but they would add extra risk to what is already a complicated outlook.
Tesla officials on a late October conference call with investors reiterated that they expected volume production for the Model 3 to begin in the second half of 2017.