"My mandate from Elon is clear," said Wheeler, formerly vice president of finance at Google, during his first quarterly earnings call at Tesla. "Cash is king."
Wheeler said he sees $1 billion in cash as "a nice comfort level" and that Tesla plans to draw upon an asset-backed revolving credit facility in 2016 to strengthen its cash position.
In a letter to investors last week, Tesla said it should turn a profit in the fourth quarter of 2016, based on generally accepted accounting principles. When calculated using Tesla's preferred non-GAAP accounting techniques, which are more forgiving about income from leased vehicles, Tesla expects to be profitable for the full year.
Tesla burned through cash at a rapid rate in 2015 as it built its massive factory for lithium ion batteries in Nevada, ramped up development of the $35,000-and-up Model 3 and expanded the paint shop at its assembly plant in Fremont, Calif.
Losses mounted when manufacturing glitches, some involving simple components such as chrome-plated trim pieces, created delays in the ramp-up for the Model X. Tesla delivered just 208 of the crossovers in the fourth quarter of 2015; by the second quarter of 2016, the company wants to be building 1,000 per week.
"The last several months have been quite excruciating," said Musk. "Many late nights and weekends. But I think we're through the woods at this point."
Tesla said it has another $1.5 billion in capital investments planned for 2016.
That includes opening 80 retail stores and 300 proprietary Supercharger charging stations, as well as finishing construction of the battery factory.
Tesla said it remains on track to launch the Model 3 at the end of 2017, and that it plans to unveil the design of the electric car during an event March 31.