FBI investigating whether Tesla misstated Model 3 production numbers

‘Tesla’s philosophy has always been to set truthful targets’

Tesla is under a criminal probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over whether it mislead investors by misstating information about Model 3 production going back to early 2017, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, which cites unnamed sources "familiar with the matter." Tesla is rejecting any wrongdoing in its projections about production of the electric sedan.

The news comes on the heels of a separate settlement of civil charges from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission against Tesla and CEO Elon Musk. The Journal reports that the FBI investigation has gained steam since then and has begun asking former Tesla employees it had previously subpoenaed to testify. The investigation is reportedly being headed by the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco.

FBI agents are reportedly comparing statements Musk and the company made about Model 3 production numbers with its manufacturing capability during 2017, honing in specifically on the question of whether Tesla made projections that it knew it would be impossible to meet. Tesla built only 2,700 Model 3s in all of 2017, including 793 in the final week of the year, despite launching production in July 2017, the Journal says. It reached its long-promised goal of reaching 5,000 Model 3s in a week in June of this year but has since mostly eased off that pace. Bloomberg's Model 3 Tracker currently estimates the automaker is pumping out 4,562 Model 3s a week and has made 111,315 units to date.

In response, Tesla emailed a statement to Autoblog that did not specifically address the FBI but reiterated its acknowledgement, on Sept. 18, that the Justice Department had requested documents. A Tesla spokesperson said in the email:

Earlier this year, Tesla received a voluntary request for documents from the Department of Justice about its public guidance for the Model 3 ramp and we were cooperative in responding to it. We have not received a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process, and there have been no additional document requests about this from the Department of Justice for months.

When we started the Model 3 production ramp, we were transparent about how difficult it would be, openly explaining that we would only be able to go as fast as our least lucky or least successful supplier, and that we were entering 'production hell.' Ultimately, given difficulties that we did not foresee in this first-of-its-kind production ramp, it took us six months longer than we expected to meet our 5,000 unit per week guidance.

Tesla's philosophy has always been to set truthful targets — not sandbagged targets that we would definitely exceed and not unrealistic targets that we could never meet. While Tesla gets criticized when it is delayed in reaching a goal, it should not be forgotten that Tesla has achieved many goals that were doubted by most. We are enormously proud of the efforts of the whole company in making it through this difficult ramp and getting us to volume production.

The SEC announced Sept. 29 it had reached a settlement with Tesla and Musk over the latter's infamous "funding secured" tweet regarding his ill-fated attempt to take the company private. The settlement requires both Tesla and Musk to pay $20 million and forces Musk to step down as chairman of the board. It also requires Tesla to appoint an independent chairman, two independent directors and a board committee to regulate Musk's Twitter activity. For his part, Musk later mocked the SEC in a tweet, calling the agency the "Shortseller Enrichment Commission," a reference to investors who bet against Tesla's stock, a frequent target of his ire.

Tesla this week said it earned $312 million in the third quarter, its first quarterly profit in nearly two years (and third overall profitable quarter), on strong sales of the Model 3.

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