Tesla shares drop on report of steep May sales decline in China

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A Model Y vehicle displayed at a Tesla flagship store on Jan. 4, 2021 in Shanghai, China.

Gao Yuwen | Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla shares dropped more than 4% in mid-day trading Thursday after a report that the company’s vehicle orders declined steeply in China during the month of May.

The Information, citing a single source familiar with the data, wrote that Tesla’s “monthly net orders in China dropped to about 9,800 in May from more than 18,000 in April.” CNBC has not corroborated that report.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory is supposed to have the capacity to make around half a million electric cars a year for deliveries in China and exports to other parts of Asia and Europe.

Elon Musk’s electric vehicle company has been grappling with recalls and safety investigations in China, and a public relations backlash there following some high-profile vehicle crashes, price changes and quality complaints from Chinese customers.

The CEO of JL Warren Capital, Junheng Li, said in an e-mail to CNBC that even though Tesla hasn’t spoken about potential impacts of their PR crisis in China, she expects they will be material.

She said, “We see a definitive material impact on Tesla branding, orders and deliveries for future months, although it’s hard to quantify exactly to what extent the declining demand is driven by concerns on Tesla’s safety features, or rising competition especially from Chinese automakers.” 

Li’s equity research firm focuses on Chinese companies and U.S. companies with significant exposure in China. Her firm estimated, in a note on June 1, that orders declined for Tesla in China by around 30% in May compared to April. While that’s not as dire as the 50% drop reported by The Information, Warren said Thursday, “Both are disastrous.”

Last year, China represented the second largest electric vehicle market in the world according to IEA research. Tesla’s near-term growth hinges largely on its ability to make and sell cars successfully in China.

According to analysis of Tesla job listings over time by Snow Bull Capital, the company is stepping up hiring for “Legal & Government Affairs” positions in 2021 across the country, and generally ramping up hiring at its Shanghai plant.

GF3 is quickly becoming the production center of M3 exported to overseas markets.  In fact, we believe there will be more M3s exported than delivered domestically in April.

Chinese Tesla rival Nio saw deliveries slide in May as a global semiconductor shortage hit its business. But another competitor, Xpeng, said it delivered 5,686 cars in May representing a 483% year-on-year rise and a 10% increase from the previous month.

Tesla shares are down about 15% year-to-date, and down more than 35% from their intraday high on Jan. 29.

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