The Tesla Model 3. Picture: REUTERS
The Tesla Model 3. Picture: REUTERS

San Francisco — Tesla has posted a surge in electric-car deliveries that could prove pivotal to earning an elusive profit, overcoming a series of distracting missteps by CEO Elon Musk.

The company handed over 83,500 vehicles in the third quarter, doubling its total in the prior three months. Of those deliveries, 55,840 were Model 3 sedans, in the range of Tesla’s forecast as it finally started to mass-manufacture the sedan. Shares were little changed in pre-market trading.

The results could prove to be a watershed moment for Musk, who jeopardised his future with Tesla by prematurely claiming he had the funding and investor support to take the car maker private. He settled fraud charges brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week by agreeing to pay $20m and step down as chair. The agency initially sought to bar him from serving as an officer or director, a pursuit that would have overshadowed the progress the company has made in manufacturing more vehicles.

Tesla produced 53,239 Model 3s in the quarter, in line with the 50,000 to 55,000 range the company had forecast. An additional 8,048 of the sedans were in transit to customers.

Tesla and its supporters went to great lengths to boost deliveries as the quarter came to a close. Owners volunteered in droves at stores and service centres to help answer questions for customers, many of who are new to electric cars. The company also offered incentives, including free charging and referral-programme perks to entice purchases.

Musk has been candid on Twitter about Tesla still having kinks to work out in smoothly getting cars into the hands of customers. He’s responded to several frustrated buyers to apologise for delays and said the company has left what he called “production hell”, only to end up in “delivery logistics hell”. Still, he said problems such as a shortage of vehicle carriers will be easier to solve than the manufacturing woes that plagued the company after Model 3 output began last year.

With Tom Randall and Esha Dey