Tesla warns on shutdown as Musk calls for end to lockdown

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Demand for Tesla’s electric cars held up in the first three months of the year, despite upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Quarterly revenues jumped 30% from last year to $5.9bn (£4.7bn), allowing the firm to turn a small profit of $16m.

It is the third quarterly profit in a row for the company, marking a turnaround after years of losses.

But Tesla said forced shutdowns and limits on deliveries had clouded its forecast for coming months.

“It is difficult to predict how quickly vehicle manufacturing and its global supply chain will return to prior levels,” the firm said.

“Due to the wide range of potential outcomes, near-term guidance … would likely be inaccurate.”

Tesla boss Elon Musk had resisted closing Tesla’s main car factory, located in California, waiting several days after the state’s shelter-in-place order in March to formally suspend production.

More recently, he has celebrated plans to relax lockdown orders, writing on Twitter “FREE AMERICA NOW” on Wednesday. He had previously dismissed concerns about the coronavirus as “panic”.

Tesla said it still had the ability to deliver more than 500,000 cars this year, despite announced shutdowns. But it warned that this could change, as re-opening dates remain unclear.

“For our US factories, it remains uncertain how quickly we and our suppliers will be able to ramp production after resuming operations,” it said.

“We are coordinating closely with each supplier and associated government.”

Tesla’s performance comes as car sales have plunged. Ford earlier reported a $2bn loss in the first quarter and warned investors that it expected another $5bn hit in the April-June period.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, thinks it is no surprise that Tesla is withdrawing guidance, given the economic risks ahead.

“If the world slips into a potentially dramatic economic slowdown, demand for big ticket items will likely fall and we would be very surprised if Tesla escape unscathed,” he said.

“Given that the group’s only recently achieved sufficient scale to be sustainably profitable, that would be less than ideal.”

Mr Musk’s commentary on the virus, which has also included promotion of unproven medicines, has drawn outcry. It has also revived memories of the controversies he stirred using the social media platform two years ago, when he made several accusations against a British cave diver following a rescue operation in Thailand.