Tesla builds 100th Model S, but production rate still far from goals

Tesla has built its 100th Model S sedan.

That may not seem like a lot, but it’s an indication that the electric car company is — as it said in a blog post Tuesday announcing the milestone — starting to ramp up production.

Palo Alto-based Tesla’s last production update came about a month ago, when it announced its second quarter results. At that point, the company had made 40 cars total and had delivered none to customers other than the first 10 it delivered in a highly publicized “launch” event on June 22.

That means the company has increased the total number of Model S vehicles it has made to date by 150 percent. Tesla made about 60 cars in less than a month, or about two a day.

When I met with Tesla officials in mid-July before test driving the Model S, they said the company was making between one and two day. So two a day is a modest increase from even then.

Investors and industry watchers have been keenly focused on Tesla’s production numbers. The money-losing company has set some ambitious production goals that it has to reach in order to start operating in the black. The company’s plan is to be profitable next year when it expects to be in full production of the new sedan.

But it’s a long way from the company’s current production rate to its goals. Tesla has said it plans to make 500 Model S vehicles by the end of the third quarter. Over the next 40 days or so, it needs to make 400 vehicles to reach that target. That works out to be about 10 a day.

Its year-end goals are even more ambitious. Tesla expects to make 4,500 Model S’s in the fourth quarter. To hit that, it will have to make 50 a day on average in that period.

Tesla officials have said that production of the Model S is on target to meet those goals and that the company expects its production numbers to ramp up exponentially in coming months in a sharp “S” curve. But some analysts are  dubious that the company will be able to hit its targets.

Although the company has a state-of-the-art automated factory in Fremont, it has no track record of mass production. Tesla produced fewer than 2,500 Roadsters, the only other car it made before the Model S.

And the 100 car figure is overstating things a bit, at least for those who have ordered the car and hoping to see one soon. Of the first 100 cars the company has made, only 74 are slated to be delivered to customers. The rest are for the company’s use; they’ll be used for testing, test drives, training and showrooms.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (226 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.