Tesla Pins Hopes on IPO and Model S Sedan

One week after finalizing the terms for a $465 million low cost federal government loan, Tesla Motors on Friday filed for an initial public offering. The company’s strategy is to sell $100 million worth of stock, and with a new level of capital in its coffers, to focus its efforts on launching its second vehicle—the $58,000 five-seat Model S luxury all-electric sedan.

“If we are to ever achieve profitability it will be dependent upon the successful development and successful commercial introduction and acceptance of automobiles such as the Model S, which may not occur,” Tesla said in the filing. Tesla originally planned to launch the car in 2011—but the current target is 2013.

Tesla defied the odds in bringing its $109,000 Roadster to market. According to filing documents, Tesla sold a total of 937 Roadsters by the end of last year, of which a large number had been reserved in previous years. Yet, the company recorded a bottom-line loss of $31.5 million for the first nine months of 2009—and has lost a total of $236.4 million since its inception in 2004. Tesla said it will use $33 million of its anticipated 2010 capital expenditures budget of $100 to $125 million to pay for parts of the powertrain and Model S production facility costs that are not covered by the federal loan.

Since the beginning, company founders and early investors expected the enter the market with the six-figure Tesla Roadster—merely as a stepping-stone to a more affordable electric car that could be produced and sold in greater volumes. Tesla is credited with spawning an industry-wide shift to electrified transportation, but that imitation could make it more difficult for Tesla to reach its annual sales target of 20,000 units for the Model S. By the time Tesla is selling the Model S, there will be several electric models on the market, including the Fisker Karma, Chevy Volt, Prius Plug-in Hybrid, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

A lot could change between now and 2013, but according to the company, the Model S will offer a driving range of approximately 160 miles, with a full recharge time of about five hours. The battery will have a useful life between five and seven years, after which a new battery pack will cost “well under $5,000.” The Model S, with its single-speed transmission, is expected to deliver 0-to-60 mph performance in less than 6 seconds. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the Model S will be “the best handling sedan on the road.”