LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- Tesla Motors Inc., a startup backed by Toyota Motor Corp. and Daimler AG, hasn’t turned a profit on rechargeable sports cars bought by Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
But a less glamorous side business of selling environmental credits to Honda Motor Co. has helped ease those losses.
Tesla since 2008 generated $13.8 million from selling the “zero-emission vehicle” credits needed by large automakers to meet California’s strict pollution rules, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said in a filing this week.
Honda, ranked as the most fuel-efficient carmaker selling to U.S. consumers, was the only named customer, buying Tesla credits equal to 368 cars and contracting for an additional 287, the U.S. automaker said.
Tesla has sold about 1,000 electric Roadsters, at $109,000 each, to film stars, musicians and battery-car advocates since 2008. CEO Elon Musk plans to build $57,000 Model S sedans at a former Toyota joint-venture factory in 2012. In filings for a planned initial public offering that may raise at least $100 million, closely held Tesla said that it has lost money every year since its founding in 2003.
“Having these credits gives us some flexibility for the future,” said Robert Bienenfeld, Honda’s U.S. senior manager for environment and energy strategy. “Whether we’ll need to purchase more, I can’t say.”
Tesla officials declined to discuss Honda’s purchases of credits. The company’s filing said it also sold credits to at least one additional automaker that wasn’t identified.
California, with federal permission to set pollution rules that often exceed national standards, altered its complex ZEV program in 2008 to help encourage sales of plug-in models. While Tokyo-based Honda is the only company leasing pollution-free hydrogen cars to U.S. retail customers, it lacks plug-ins required under the state rules.
Program changes in 2008 required that Honda, Toyota, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. combine to sell more than 60,000 plug-in hybrid and battery-only models in the state over a three-year period.
Companies failing to comply face fines and potential restrictions on sales in California, which annually buys more than 10 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda last month said he would invest $50 million in Tesla and develop electric cars and components with the company. Daimler in 2009 invested about $50 million in Tesla and is buying Tesla-built battery packs for Smart minicars.
Tesla also has received $465 million in low-interest federal loans to expand sales of its components and refurbish the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif., to build the Model S.