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Tesla’s scant disclosures leave Wall Street guessing on Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 sedan. (Associated Press)
The Tesla Model 3 sedan. (Associated Press)

Tesla may have delivered about four times more Model 3 sedans last quarter than in the prior three months, or boosted sales by a factor of 40, depending on which analyst you ask.

The broad range of estimates reflects how little the electric-car maker has disclosed about the progress it’s made speeding up production of its sedan that starts at $35,000. Model 3 deliveries might have climbed to about 3,678 vehicles, the average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

Mass producing the Model 3 is crucial to Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s goal to transition Tesla from a niche player into a more mainstream automaker. But the roll-out of the car has been marred by manufacturing issues at Tesla’s California assembly plant and at its battery factory near Reno, Nevada. Tesla delayed by a quarter its target to produce 5,000 Model 3s per week, and the company hasn’t said whether the 10,000-unit weekly pace it was planning for sometime this year is still possible.

“People are past the shine of saying, ‘OK, you guys are a great design and marketing house,’” Joe Fath, a fund manager at T. Rowe Price, one of Tesla’s largest shareholders, said by phone. “Now they want to see the manufacturing execution come through.”

There are signs deliveries have picked up, with the first wave of non-employees posting about their new cars on message boards and social media. Still, the automaker has kept details on Model 3 shipments close to the vest, leaving Wall Street largely in the dark about what fourth-quarter production figures will look like.

As a result, analyst estimates are all over the map. Jeffrey Osborne of Cowen & Co. forecasts deliveries of 9,100 Model 3 sedans in the final quarter of 2017, while Colin Rusch of Oppenheimer estimates only 800. Manufacturing bottlenecks limited third-quarter deliveries to just 220 cars.

Gene Munster, co-founder of research-driven venture capital firm Loup Ventures, estimates about 2,500 Model 3 deliveries for the quarter but said he remains bullish on the stock long term.

“The reason we remain upbeat on the Tesla story despite the prolonged Model 3 production problems is because EV and autonomy are the future,” Loup wrote in a Dec. 28 research note. “Tesla is fighting to gain production scale to create that future.”

Investors have been largely forgiving of Tesla’s production setbacks thus far, with Tesla’s market capitalization vaulting past Ford’s in 2017. The shares climbed 46 percent last year.

Although much attention will be on the Model 3, Tesla will also release sales and production figures for its flagship Model S sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle. The company delivered 76,230 vehicles in 2016 and has said it expects to deliver about 100,000 Model S and X vehicles in 2017.