Tesla Motors Offsets Financial Losses by Selling Battery Car Credits to Honda and Other Automakers

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors Incorporated has sold about 1,000 of its Roadster all-electric vehicles (AEVs) since 2008. Most of those sales have been to electric car enthusiasts, musicians and move stars including Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

Tesla currently sells two versions of the Roadster: the base model, with a sticker price of $109,000, and the Roadster Sport priced at $128,000. Future plans call for mass production of the S model, which the automaker now says will be priced at around $57,000. Tesla hopes to launch the model S in 2012. Last year, Tesla had estimated the final sticker price for the S model would be below $50,000.

The startup AEV maker recently announced a new joint venture with Toyota Motor Company to produce the S model at Toyota’s New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California.

Tesla has been awarded $465 million in low-interest federal loans to help in refurbish the NUMMI facilities and expand its AEV component sales channels. Last year, Daimler AG invested approximately $50 million in the startup company and plans to buy Tesla’s battery packs for use in its Smart minicars.

Despite government and private sector investments, Tesla has lost money every year since its founding in 2003. During the first three quarters of 2009, Tesla reported losses of $31 million, down from a $57.3 million loss during the same period in 2008. To offset those losses, Tesla has formed a side business selling environmental credits to top tier automakers like Honda Motor Company.

In a filing last week, Tesla reported that it has generated $13.8 million in “zero-emission vehicle” credit sales since 2008. Purchasing the credits helps automakers comply with California’s stringent tailpipe emissions regulations.

In the report, Tesla reported that Honda (which was the only automaker identified by name) has bought credits equal to 368 vehicles and has contracted to buy an additional 287 credits.

Tesla has declined to comment on its sale of credits to Honda. In its filing, Tesla claimed to have sold credits to at least one other automaker, but it did not divulge the automaker’s identity.

Honda’s U.S. senior manager for environment and energy strategy said, “Having these credits gives us some flexibility for the future. Whether we’ll need to purchase more, I can’t say.”

In 2008, California made significant changes to its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) program aimed at encouraging the sale of plug-in electric vehicles. Under the new rules, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company, Honda Motor Company, Nissan Motor Company and Toyota Motor Company are required to sell a combined total of 60,000 plug-in gas-electric hybrids and AEVs in California by 2011.

While Honda has been rated the most fuel-efficient automaker in the U.S. market and has been at the forefront of hydrogen fuel cell development, it lacks the plug-in electric models to comply with ZEV requirements. Honda’s failure to comply with the new regulations would result in fines and possible sales restrictions in California, which accounts for about 10% of all annual new vehicle sales in the U.S.

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