Tesla's 4Q loss widens, but sales forecast beats analyst estimates

"The future is now" may be well-worn cliche, but when it comes to Tesla Motors' stock price performance, "now" is all about the future.

The high-end electric-vehicle maker said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter loss widened 59 percent from a year earlier as research and development expenses surged in advance of this year's debut of the company's Model S sedan and the development of the Model X crossover set to launch late next year.

Tesla's net loss widened to $81.5 million, up from $51.4 million a year earlier. While sales rose 8.5 percent to $39.4 million, R&D expenses rose faster – at a 63 percent clip – to $61.2 million.

Still, investors didn't seem to mind, as Tesla stock was up about 1 percent in Nasdaq trading at about 2:30 Eastern time Thursday. That's because the company said 2012 sales will be between $550 million and $600 million, with deliveries of the Model S expected to be in the 5,000-unit range. Analysts in a Thomson Reuters poll forecast Tesla's 2012 sales to be $521.5 million.

Tesla's Model S is set to start deliveries by July. The sedan is touted to have the longest range between charges of any mass-produced electric vehicle when it goes on sale, and will be offered with three range options: 160 miles, 230 miles and 300 miles. Prices start at $57,400 (before federal tax credits) for the 160-mile version, with a premium of about $20,000 for the 300-mile version.

Meanwhile, last week, Tesla unveiled its Model X crossover electric vehicle at its Southern California design studios and said the CUV would start production late next year. The Model X, which has the much-discussed "falcon-wing" rear doors similar to those of the old Mercedes-Benz gull winged doors, is expected to have a base price similar to the Model S and will be able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds, or 0.2 seconds quicker than a Porsche 911.

Since the unveiling, Tesla said it generated more than $40 million in advance sales for the Model X through more than 500 pre-orders, making the CUV the fastest-selling Tesla model to date. Model S reservations also jumped 30 percent after the unveiling.

Tesla last year stopped production of its battery-electric Roadster in the U.S., though last month said it would make final versions of the model available this year in Europe, Asia and Australia, where the company's Model S sedan is not yet available. Tesla has sold more than 2,100 Roadsters in 31 countries since debuting the $109,000 model in four years ago.

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