Tesla Motors: 3 Numbers to Watch

Tesla retail store in Frankfurt, Germany. Source: Tesla Motors.

In the first quarter of 2013, Tesla Motors stepped into the limelight. Reporting its first profitable quarter and sales of 4,900 vehicles, this electric-vehicle manufacturer is now a formidable competitor to U.S. luxury-auto manufacturers. Meanwhile, the market has taken notice. Tesla's stock is up about 275% year to date. Expectations are undoubtedly very high. In order to meet these expectations or (even better) outperform them, this electric-car manufacturer is going to need to succeed internationally.

Unfortunately, tracking Tesla's international potential is still a work in progress. But, for investors attempting to gauge the company's opportunity in international markets early on, here are three numbers to watch.

International store openings
After Tesla's success in the U.S., it has proven to offer consumers -- or at least a large number of early adopters -- a convincing value proposition. So an international presence in a country with an affluent population would be, by itself, a definite driver of international sales.

In fact, word of mouth alone should work as an important growth driver for the Model S internationally. As the company noted in its Q1 letter to shareholders, "We are seeing orders in a particular region increase proportionate to the number of deliveries, which means that customers are selling other customers on the car. Given that we have not yet delivered any customer cars outside of North America, there would appear to be significant upside potential in Europe and Asia."

Therefore, store openings that signal Tesla's intention to enter a particular market, combined with word of mouth, should serve as definite drivers of growth for international sales.

At the end of Q1, Tesla had 34 stores and galleries around the world and intends to open 15 more this year, with about half of them in Europe and Asia. This is an obvious indication that Tesla is taking its international expansion in these two regions seriously.

International sales numbers
Very little meaningful information regarding Tesla's success in Europe has surfaced yet, but multiple reports indicate that the company is on schedule to begin deliveries in Europe this month, and to ramp up Asia deliveries in July. A March 5 comment from Tesla CEO Elon Musk indicated a bullish outlook from the company regarding sales in Europe, potentially signaling strong orders in the region: "The European market is very well suited to the design intent behind our vehicles. Our focus is to combine design, engineering and performance with a forward-looking influence toward clean energy and sustainability."

One number did surface, however, that pointed to meaningful demand in Hong Kong. A July 5 Bloomberg report said that Tesla has "received hundreds of orders for its new Model S sedan in Hong Kong, enough to double the number of electric cars in the city." Kenneth Lui, Tesla Hong Kong sales manager, explained: "Our number is over all electric cars in Hong Kong combined." According to an April report from Hong Kong's Transport Department, Hong Kong had 303 registered private electric cars. This means Tesla has already received about 300 orders for the new Model S sedan several quarters before deliveries begin.

As these numbers continue to roll out, Tesla investors should keep a close eye.

Production rate
In the first-quarter letter to shareholders, Tesla noted that it was producing 400 vehicles per week, with an expectation to produce about 21,000 vehicles for the full year of 2013. Great, right? Not really. Trading at about 15 times sales, Tesla is going to need to ramp up production rapidly to meet investor expectations.

The company recently told Bloomberg that it is very confident that it will get to 800 vehicles per week by late 2014. This makes for about 38,400 vehicles annually -- still far from the several hundred thousand vehicles per year the company expects to produce someday after it releases the $30,000 model that Musk asserts will come to the market in about three to four years.

Investors should keep a close eye on the company's comments regarding current and projected weekly production rates. Obviously the farther out the projection, the less useful it is, but a projection of production rates one year out is definitely a useful indicator of the company's interpretation of its global demand.

The Model S is going global
For Tesla, 2012 was the year of the Model S. And 2013? "This year, we are on a journey to expand the presence of the Model S and turn profitable," states Tesla's 2012 annual letter to shareholders.

With the stock trading at a significant premium, obvious drivers of growth, such as Tesla's opportunities in Europe and Asia, are mostly already priced in. So the company's international expansion definitely should not be the sole merit behind a decision to invest in the stock, but it's definitely an area to watch closely.

Trends in store openings, international sales, and production rates should appear exponential in order for the company to have a shot at growing into its valuation. Next quarter, in particular, will be a very important quarter for these three numbers as the company begins to accept orders and make deliveries in international markets. Tesla's projections for these three areas will help investors gauge the company's internal interpretation of its international opportunity.

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The article Tesla Motors: 3 Numbers to Watch originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Daniel Sparks has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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