Tesla has told suppliers it planned to begin test-building its Model 3 sedans on Feb. 20, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that could allay concerns about the company meeting its target to start production in July.
The sources did not know how many of the highly anticipated vehicles Tesla aimed to build in February, but it would likely be a small number to test the assembly system and the quality of vehicle parts.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk last year told investors and more than 370,000 customers who put deposits down for a Model 3 that he intended to start building the cars in July 2017. At the time, many analysts and suppliers said the timeline was too ambitious and would be difficult to achieve, pointing to Tesla’s history of missing aggressive production targets.
If Tesla succeeds in starting pilot production of the sedan at its factory in Fremont, California on Feb. 20, the company would be able to share the news with shareholders two days later when it reports fourth-quarter results and better answer any questions about the Model 3 rollout.
Tesla has a lot riding on the Model 3, which is priced at roughly $35,000 before government incentives. If successful, the sedan could raise Tesla beyond a niche luxury player in the automotive sector.
Tesla has not had a profitable year since going public in 2010, though the company’s $41.4 billion market capitalization now equals that of Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T), which reported a profit of $4.7 billion last year.
Musk’s bold approach to cars, space exploration and clean energy has fueled investor enthusiasm for Tesla, but skeptics are waiting to see if Musk can fulfill his promise of producing 500,000 cars per year by 2018.
That would expand Tesla’s annual production by four to five times compared to 2016 levels. In its fourth quarter, Tesla produced 24,882 vehicles.
“We assume 0 Model 3 deliveries in ’17,” Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a Jan. 3 note, while Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas in a Jan. 19 note said he expected a “soft launch” of the Model 3 to be delayed until late 2017.