Editor’s note: This story was updated with comments about Model S sales and delivery from Tesla.
Year to date, the number of Tesla Model S sedans registered with the U.S. Department of Motor Vehicles is significantly lower than it was last year.
“I think Tesla is getting to a point, at least in the U.S., where marketing the vehicle and consumer outreach will become more important,” IHS analyst Stephanie Brinley said in an e-mail interview. “The purchase of a Tesla is a technology buy as well as a car buy, and those that can comfortably to add one to a household fleet, and want to, largely have. The company may have to work harder to get [potential customers] converted to buyers going forward.”
Last week Tesla posted a job listing for a fleet development manager in North America who, among other things, will be responsible for creating a list of 50 prospective government and business clients. A Tesla representative said in an email that the posting is for a vacated position within the company that existed beforehand and that it does not reflect a change in the company’s business strategy. According to IHS Automotive, Tesla Model S U.S. registrations sit at 11,731 down 21.7 percent compared to the 14,984 registered by this time in 2013.
“Many cars are being shipped overseas and are therefore not reflected in the US registration numbers,” Tesla spokeswoman Jamee Hawn said in an email. “As a result of the allocation of production and delivery among these expanding markets, we are at a lower volume of U.S. registrations versus last year. We are aiming for 33,000 delivered Model S in 2014 and registrations will be reflected accordingly in the respective markets for all cars delivered.”
The California-based electric car maker doesn’t officially report its monthly sales, but its inventory of completed cars the company reported in its latest quarterly SEC filing is nearly triple what it was a year prior. Larger, more mainstream automakers often use fleet sales to maintain volume when retail demand trails off, but fleet cars are usually considerably less expensive than the Model S, which starts at $79,000.
Merrill Lynch analyst John Lovallo said in a note to clients last month that he estimates Tesla could be sitting on as many as 3,000 unsold units. In the long run, Tesla hopes that half of its global sales will come from markets outside North America, but that plan is contingent on shoring up sales in Europe and China.
Telsa said in its third-quarter filing that its limited experience in selling cars to Chinese customers poses a risk that could threaten its ability to meet sales targets and that it needs to significantly increase Model S deliveries concurrent with its plan to increase production.
Last week the company’s Chinese president Veronica Wu resigned after nine months in the role.
Its current product plan puts the Model X crossover on pace for delivery in late 2015 if the company can finish development in time. Tesla’s Alpha prototypes of the Model X are still under testing and its Beta products are just coming online. The Model X launch was previously pegged for 2014, but delays are currently pushing its launch to late next year. Continued delays could shake investor confidence in the company’s ability to create fresh products, though the delays haven’t seemed to have a meaningful impact on its share prices so far.