Twelve days after warning the "road ahead is very difficult" for Tesla, CEO Elon Musk seemed to place the electric-car maker on firmer footing.
Tesla said last week it enjoyed its second straight profitable quarter during the final three months of 2018, and Musk said he expected the company to turn a profit in every quarter this year.
That would be a remarkable run of stability for Tesla, which posted a $139.5 million net profit in the fourth quarter. That's compared with a $311.5 million net gain in the previous quarter and a $675 million loss during the same period a year earlier.
Tesla generated fourth-quarter automotive revenue of $6.3 billion, up 3.6 percent from the third quarter and more than double the $2.7 billion posted during the same quarter a year earlier.
Going forward, Tesla faces economic headwinds that include potential tariffs and the end of electric vehicle tax credits in the United States. Key to the company's continued momentum: the Model 3 electric sedan.
"As we improve the production rate of Model 3, the cost per vehicle continues to decline," Tesla said in its earnings report. "It is critical that we continue this trend so that we can keep increasing the affordability of Model 3 while retaining a sustainable level of profitability."
Musk made it clear he expects the Model 3 to lead "exponential" growth in deliveries.
"Even if there's a global recession, we're expecting deliveries this year to be about 50 percent higher than last year," he said. "It could be a lot more than that. Even without tough economic times, to see 50 percent growth is pretty nutty."
Though Musk told investors during a conference call Wednesday, Jan. 30, that the Model 3's worldwide delivery potential could be as much 800,000 units in a strong economy, Tesla's guidance issued earlier in the day projected deliveries of 360,000 to 400,000.
North American deliveries in 2018 totaled 63,359, according to the company. Production of vehicles bound for China and Europe started in January.
The Model 3 was the best-selling luxury vehicle in the U.S. during the fourth quarter and the fifth-best-selling passenger car, according to data from research firm Edmunds. The company says it is snagging more than traditional luxury customers.
Tesla says its trade-in data suggest only 17 percent of Model 3 customers are transitioning from other midsize premium sedans, and that 60 percent of the trade-ins are nonpremium vehicles. Trade-ins of the company's Model S sedans for new Model 3s accounted for 4 percent, according to Tesla.
Although launching the car involved a well-documented "production hell," according to Musk, the company expects to sustain output of 7,000 Model 3s per week by year end.