Elon Musk has tried to rebrand the $50 billion Tesla as an energy company. Last year the founder and chief executive splashed out more than $2 billion on solar-panel installer SolarCity. In February he dropped “Motors” from the corporate name. And last month he made a high-profile bet on energy storage in South Australia. Yet Tesla’s future still rests on making the newly launched Model 3 sedan into a mass-market success.

Early demand is impressive. The company has taken more than half a million early orders, Musk said at the launch event on Friday. But he also warned of “at least six months of manufacturing hell.” That’s probably an understatement. He wants to crank out cars at a rate of 500,000 a year by the end of 2018 – and 1 million by 2020. That’s a huge leap from the current pace of around 100,000.

Employees weighed in on Monday. The self-styled Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee sent an open letter to the company’s board complaining of an injury rate higher than not just competitors but “sawmills and slaughter houses” too. It also suggested shop-floor staff should be given more chance to identify problems and solutions in the production process. That’s hardly encouraging.

Wednesday’s second-quarter earnings report will reveal more about Tesla’s investment in the Model 3 than the production trajectory: Wall Street expects a $335 million loss. Even at current output levels, though, cars account for more the 90 percent of Tesla’s top line. Assuming Musk hits his production target, Tesla’s revenue would more than triple from last year’s $7 billion to at least $22.5 billion, assuming all vehicles sold were Model 3s at an average price of $45,000.

That puts anything but electric cars in the shade. Granted, Musk used recent power outages in South Australia to play up Tesla’s energy credentials. He won a contract from the state to provide battery storage for unused wind and solar energy in part by offering to swallow the costs if he could not complete the job within 100 days. That puts around $50 million on the line, he reckons.

In the meantime, however, the SolarCity acquisition looks wobbly. Musk’s co-founders and cousins Peter and Lyndon Rive both left in recent months. Unless Musk has something else up his sleeve, Tesla is, now more than ever, a carmaker.

On Twitter https://twitter.com/AntonyMCurrie


- Tesla is set to report second-quarter earnings after the U.S. stock market closes at 4 p.m. EDT on Aug. 2. The consensus estimate of sell-side analysts is for a loss of $335 million, or $1.83 a share.

- On July 28 Tesla officially launched its Model 3 mass-market sedan. Chief Executive Elon Musk said at the launch event that customers had placed more than 500,000 advance reservations. He said the company is "going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell" as it attempts to increase production of all its vehicles to a rate of half a million a year by the end of 2018.

- On July 31 a group of Tesla employees calling themselves the Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee sent an open letter to the automaker’s board to raise concerns about “challenges that are holding us back from working as effectively and efficiently as we would like.” They referred to an above-average injury rate, a lack of guidance, high turnover and insecurity. They also asked for more of a voice in the company, about pay and health and safety as well as in identifying problems and solutions with Tesla’s manufacturing process.

- Tesla confirmed on July 18 that Peter Rive, co-founder of SolarCity, would be leaving the company. Tesla bought the solar-panel installer last year for $2.6 billion. Rive’s brother, co-founder and former Chief Executive Lyndon Rive, left Tesla earlier in the year. Tesla founder and boss Musk is their cousin.

- For previous columns by the author, Reuters customers can click on


(Editing by Richard Beales and Martin Langfield)

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