By Heather Somerville
Tesla Inc. extended its profitability streak in the third quarter, defying the global economic turmoil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and bolstering the outlook for mass-market electric vehicles.
The Silicon Valley car maker on Wednesday posted a net profit of $331 million for the three-month period ended Sept. 30. It marks Tesla's fifth-consecutive quarter in the black and keeps the company on track for 2020 to be the first calendar year of profitability after years of losses.
Tesla also revived a pre-pandemic target to build at least 500,000 vehicles this year, which Chief Executive Elon Musk laid out in January, an increase of at least 36% from last year. Tesla didn't formally withdraw that guidance, but until now had largely ignored the projection that seemed improbable at the onset of the pandemic, when it temporarily shut down its lone U.S. factory as local health officials worked to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
"While achieving this goal has become more difficult, delivering half a million vehicles in 2020 remains our target," the company said.
The company was buoyed by efficiencies in manufacturing, including lower labor costs at its production facility in China, as well as growing demand in that country for electric cars. Its ability to sell emission credits to rivals to meet regulatory requirements has padded the bottom line.
Tesla on Wednesday reported a record $8.77 billion in revenue for the quarter, a 39% jump from a year ago. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected sales of $8.28 billion.
Shares were up nearly 4% to about $438 in after-hours trading. Tesla shares have roughly quintupled since the start of the year.
Earlier this month, Tesla reported record car sales for the third quarter, with 139,593 vehicle deliveries in the period, a record that suggested the target of 500,000 deliveries for the year was in reach.
Tesla has been trying to cut costs and build cars more efficiently in part to reflect a shift in customers that are increasingly buying its more-affordable Model 3 car and Model Y sport-utility vehicle, rather than the higher-priced models that would contribute a larger profit.
Mr. Musk's goal to turn electric vehicles from a niche market to having mass-market appeal appeared to gain traction in the second half of last year as Model 3 sales fueled massive growth, and after Tesla successfully opened its first overseas assembly factory in China, where the company has churned out cars with lower-cost labor. Tesla posted a $143 million profit in the third quarter of last year, and has stayed profitable since.
Mr. Musk has laid out a bold vision to be the world's largest auto maker, although the entrepreneur has been prone to hyperbole. At a shareholder event last month, he said he expects Tesla to build 20 million cars annually within the decade, and laid out a plan to use lower-cost batteries to make a $25,000 electric vehicle, which would be significantly cheaper than anything Tesla currently sells.
Tesla has bolstered its manufacturing capacity with new factories in Berlin and near Austin, Texas, and Mr. Musk recently tweeted that the company has plans to enter India next year.
The profit will likely revive debate about Tesla joining the S&P 500 stock index. Tesla qualified for inclusion in the index after reporting a profit in the second quarter this year, but was left out in the latest update.
Write to Heather Somerville at Heather.Somerville@wsj.com
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