Tesla Profit Hits a Quarterly Record

Tesla announced a solid quarterly financial performance on Monday reflecting continuing increases in sales and production around the world.

The electric-car maker reported earnings of 39 cents per share in the first quarter. That was a significant increase from the 24 cents per share it reported for the fourth quarter of 2020. A year ago, it earned just 2 cents per share in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic hurt sales and forced the shutdown of its plant in Fremont, Calif.

The quarterly profit of $438 million was Tesla’s highest ever.

Earlier this month, Tesla said it delivered a record 184,800 cars in the first three months of the year, more than double the total from the comparable period in 2020.

“Tesla continues to see growing pent-up demand throughout China and Europe,” Dan Ives, a Wedbush analyst, wrote in a report to investors. In the United States, the Biden administration’s push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support sales of electric vehicles is likely to help sustain demand for Tesla’s cars, Mr. Ives added.

Although down from recent highs, Tesla shares are more than five times as valuable than they were a year ago. The stock declined about 2 percent in extended trading after the earnings announcement, evidently because the results fell short of even higher expectations of some analysts.

The earnings news comes as Tesla is facing increasing questions about the safety of its Autopilot driver assistance system. Two men were killed this month in Texas when the Tesla Model S they were riding in crashed into a tree on a residential street and burst into flames. Local police said one man was found in the passenger seat and the other in the rear seat, with no one at the steering wheel when the crash occurred.

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The National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have sent teams to investigate the crash and see whether the men had relied on Autopilot to drive the car. Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, has written to Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, urging him to cooperate with safety regulators.

A week ago Mr. Musk posted a message on Twitter saying data from the car “so far” showed Autopilot was not enabled.

Tesla has also come under scrutiny in China, where authorities have looked into reports from consumers about battery fires and sudden acceleration by Tesla vehicles.

The company currently makes cars in Fremont and Shanghai. In its earnings report, it said it expected to begin production this year at factories it is building in Austin, Texas, and in Germany near Berlin.

Tesla said it expected deliveries to increase more than 50 percent this year from the 500,000 vehicles it sold last year. Some analysts expect the year’s figure to reach 850,000 or more.

The Austin plant is supposed to produce an angular, futuristic-looking pickup, known as the Cybertruck, and a battery-powered semi truck. The Tesla Semi is supposed to go into production later this year, the company said. It gave no specific timetable for Cybertruck production.

Tesla said that it generated $293 million in cash in the quarter but that its cash on hand fell because it used $1.2 billion as part of its purchase of $1.5 billion of Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency. It used another $1.2 billion for debt and lease repayments.

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