Tesla’s Sudden Chinese Billion, Where Are The Cars Behind It? – Forbes

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2017

Tesla charging station in Beijing (Photo: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

A few days ago, Bloomberg sifted through Tesla Motor’s Form 10-K, AKA the annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In search of something good, Bloomberg found that “Tesla Inc.’s revenue from China last year tripled to more than $1 billion.” That headline whirled around the globe, and by now, the world is convinced that Tesla tripled the cars sold in China. Let’s see whether that perception jibes with reality.

How did Tesla make all that money in China? No clue coming from Bloomberg. How many cars did Tesla really sell in China? Officially, nobody knows. Tesla doesn’t supply per-country numbers, saying that journalists are too daft to read them.  The vacuum creates stories like this one. Or Bloomberg’s. There is no unit sales number in the 10-K that would back-up the astounding Chinese revenues. Actually, I could not find any unit sales number at all in the annual report, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

This forces us to use alternate sources.

The usually quite reliable EV-Sales blog (its author, Jose Pontes, has been portrayed here), says that 7,548 Tesla cars were registered in China in 2016. For all of 2015, Tesla China registrations are nowhere to be found. Last data point is  November 2015, when EV-Sales said that  4,125 Tesla cars were registered in China. So let’s call the year-end number 4,500 (and that’s without accounting for the Tesla-typical year-end spike, see below.) According to that, Chinese customers would have registered a generous 68% more Tesla cars in 2016 than in the dismal 2015. While a respectable number, it would simply be in-line with the growth of China’s NEV market, which was up 61% in 2016, as EV Volumes says.

However, 68% definitely is not indicative of a near tripling of sales, as the Chinese revenue number would make believe. Electrek, an unabashed Tesla fanzine, helpfully says that the $1 billion in revenues “should represent over 11,000 vehicles delivered.” Indeed it should, but where were they delivered?

Cecking a Tesla in Ningbo, China. (Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

I turned to professional car counters. The UK data house Jato Dynamics is considered one of the best in the business. They power marketing departments of automakers around the globe with solid, reliable data. Analysts without access to JATO fly blind.


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