Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is a very secretive company. While other auto makers routinely disclose their monthly sales, Tesla keeps those under wraps. This has investors guessing.
But investors, ever so industrious, always find ways to guess. One method which Tesla enthusiasts found useful was to continually monitor the VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers) posted by new Tesla Model S owners. The VIN is a 17-digit number which uniquely identifies each car produced. It includes a segment that's sequential: the last 5 digits, so it's possible to have a rough idea of how many vehicles were produced between 2 dates by having the VINs of vehicles from those 2 dates.
One enthusiast in particular, Craig Froehle, took this monitoring of the VINs to a whole new level. He elevated the process to nearly a science. Through the voluntary reporting of VINs in Tesla's forum, he managed to put together a decent picture of Tesla's ongoing production.
And for a while, what this monitoring showed was Tesla racing ahead of expectations and guidance. Guidance which I might add was clearly sandbagged. Tesla delivered 4900 Model S in Q1 2013, guided for 4500 deliveries in Q2 2013 and delivered 5150, and then guided for just slightly over 5000 deliveries in Q3 2013.
This was extremely low guidance in light of the fact that Q3 2013 will include European deliveries on top of U.S. deliveries. And even if many cars are caught in transit or bound to showrooms, it suffices to say that Craig Froehle's work signaled production was running at around 8000 vehicles in Q3 2013. It's thus likely that deliveries might well have reached at least 6000-7000, well ahead of guidance. Amazingly, even surpassing guidance by that much would still be consistent with stagnated U.S. demand, given that a part of these would have been bound for Europe.
But the really large surprise lies elsewhere
The really large surprise is not in the fact that Tesla ought to exceed its guidance. The really large surprise in Craig Froehle's work is that it's now signaling a significant slowdown in Tesla Model S production. The VINs, which in late September got to a pace of 725 cars per week, have now decelerated substantially. Indeed, over the last month (October) the production pace seems to have gone to just 407 cars per week, and over the last couple of weeks things have gotten even slower at just 376 cars per week. This makes for a quarterly pace of 4887-5288 cars, and this is for U.S. and European production, combined.
Taking into account these numbers, I wouldn't be surprised for Tesla to beat its Q3 2013 guidance significantly, but then guide Q4 2013 towards just 5500-6000 deliveries, and some of that would still be an effect from Q3 deliveries into Q4, because the present production pace seems to be already below that.
Tesla's VIN data shows a significant slowdown in production since October started. At the same time, the data implies Tesla beat its low-balled guidance for deliveries in Q3 2013. The VIN data continues to be consistent with U.S. demand for the Model S having peaked, and indeed, it's now consistent with that demand having already weakened substantially. This is so because the production pace now seems to be around 5250-5300 cars per quarter but that includes production bound for Europe, so production bound for the U.S. must already be significantly below the 5000 cars delivered in Q1 and Q2.
I highly recommend readers to take the time to visit Craig Froehle's work.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.