Feb. 19 - Electric car maker Tesla Motors plans to raise car production 55 percent this year to 35,000 vehicles in an attempt to meet growing demand behind better-than-expected net earnings. Carmen Roberts reports.
Electric car maker Tesla zooms past earnings estimates and says it plans to ramp up production to 35,000 cars in 2014. That's a whopping 55 percent increase over last year. That sent shares skyrocketing to record levels in extended trading. Tesla, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, said it will start selling its SUV Model X by year's end with deliveries beginning in the spring. And it will start delivering the Model S to China next spring. Jessica Caldwell with Edmunds.com says going global is an encouraging step. SOUNDBITE: JESSICA CALDWELL, SENIOR ANALYST, EDMUNDS.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "I think there is a lot of worldwide excitement about this car. It started selling in China. I think a lot of people are very curious and very interested in this technology, there and in other parts of the world." Investors, banking on Telsa's international expansion, like the projection that sales in Europe and Asia will be almost double the sales of North America before year's end. But the carmaker left everyone hanging about plans for its "giga" factory for batteries. Tesla simply said it will share more information "shortly." Having its own factory to produce lithium-ion batteries is a vital component to ramping up production and innovation, as well as cutting costs. SOUNDBITE: JESSICA CALDWELL, SENIOR ANALYST, EDMUNDS.COM (ENGLISH) SAYING: "When they start to produce a mainstream car, the Model E - they are going to need a lot of batteries. That is going to put them in the full-fledged automotive company category." That mainstream car may cost about $30,000. No word yet on when Tesla will start production. Still, there's much to like in the fourth quarter results. It reported earnings of $0.33 per share, excluding one-time items on revenue of $46 million dollars. Ben Kallo, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., told Reuters he was impressed that Tesla hit its gross margin target of 25 percent, and word that production will increase from 800 to 1,000 cars a week shows there's demand for the electric car - even at the lofty price of $72,000 to $121,000 dollars. Once Tesla gets its affordable Gen III Model E on the road, Kallo says it's possible 80,000 electric cars a year could be rolling off the line by 2017.