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Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA): How This Car Company Makes Millions Selling Carbon Credits

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) was formed in 2003 with the idea of building a car with an alternative current (AC) electric motor similar to Nikola Tesla’s original design. Ten years later, Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) eked out its first profit – an $11.25 million take in the first quarter of 2013.

Elon MuskIt’s been a long road for Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA), and the company has had to get creative in how it finances itself to keep revenues flowing in. From 2011 to 2012, the company was able to double its revenue, going from $204 million to $413 million. Some of that can be attributed to the doubling of its fleet from one car to two. The company also makes money from its competitors in a very crafty way, however; it sells carbon credits to other automakers.

How it works

California has some of the most stringent state emissions regulations in the U.S. That state allows auto manufacturers who produce a surplus of zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) to sell credits to companies that need to comply with regulations. By 2025, all large-volume auto manufacturers need to have 15.4% of their fleets be ZEV. Similar rules are in effect for a handful of other states, and the Environmental Protection Agency also has emissions credit rules as well.

This gives Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) a tremendous upper hand since the only product that it sells is emission-free electric vehicles. The company is able to sell credits to companies like General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), among others. This has allowed Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) to make $2.8 million in 2010, $2.7 million in 2011 and $40.5 million in 2012 from its competitors. This was a big contributor to Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s ability to finally show a profit.

The competition is subsidizing Tesla

Yes, the auto manufacturing space is a dog-eat-dog market. What’s interesting is how Tesla has been able to cull cash from its two biggest American competitors, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F). Both of these companies are still focused on selling high-margin gas-guzzling trucks, a strategy that ended up causing them major problems when the economy tanked a few years ago.

Of Ford’s 14.8 million units sold in 2012, 645,000 of them were full-sized trucks. Ford has stated that the average age of a truck on the road in America is 10 years old, which gives the company hope that these numbers, and their corresponding proportion of sales, will go up. GM has very similar numbers; of the 14.7 million vehicles that GM sold in the United States last year, 645,000 were full-sized trucks. This just means that more credits will be needed from Tesla in order to subsidize these sales.

How these companies are competing

Despite their love of trucks, Both GM and Ford are taking steps to make their fleets more fuel-efficient. GM has the Chevy Volt and in 2013 will produce the all-electric Chevy Spark. The company has discontinued its hybrid truck line, but it does have 12 hybrid models overall. Ford has the Focus Electric and four other hybrid vehicles.

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