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Tesla shares fall on $50 million 1Q loss as research and development costs rise

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DETROIT - Electric car maker Tesla Motors lost $49.8 million in the first quarter as it accelerated the development of its new crossover and made improvements to its Model S sedan.

Tesla said it produced a record 7,535 Model S sedans during the period and delivered 6,457 to customers, but higher costs led to a loss.

Shares fell 7 per cent to $187.50 in after-hours trading.

The company also said Wednesday that California is now in the running for a $5 billion battery factory it plans to build. Previously the company was only considering Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada for the factory, which is scheduled to begin producing lithium-ion batteries for Tesla's Fremont, California, car factory in 2017.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will prepare two separate sites for the battery factory to minimize the risk of delays. Work may begin as early as next month on one of the sites, he said. He wouldn't say which states are the finalists. California is a possible choice, he said, if the government can streamline the permitting process.

Musk said the gigafactory, as it's known in the company, will help Tesla cut its battery costs by 30 per cent. But it has to be built by 2017 to supply batteries for the company's lower-cost Generation Three vehicle.

"If we don't have the gigafactory online when have the vehicle capacity online, we will be in trouble," Musk told analysts on the company's earnings conference call.

For the January-March quarter, research and development costs jumped 49 per cent to $81.5 million as Tesla prepares to launch the Model X crossover next year. Musk said the Model X has some tricky issues, including the seals around its unique back doors, which slide upward instead of opening outward.

Tesla is also spending money to adapt the Model S for international markets including the United Kingdom, Japan and Hong Kong.

Finally, Musk said the company is still spending on improvements to the existing Model S. For example, Tesla installed additional safety equipment on new and existing Model S sedans after a government investigation into two Model S battery fires. In both cases, road debris punctured an aluminum shield and the battery, touching off fires. No one was injured, but the cars were destroyed. The government closed its investigation in March.

For the quarter that ended on March 31, Tesla posted a loss of 40 cents per share compared with a profit of 10 cents per share in the January-March period last year. That was the decade-old company's first profitable quarter.

Revenue grew 10 per cent to $620.5 million in the latest period.

Excluding stock-based compensation and accounting for leasing, Tesla posted a profit of 12 cents per share on revenue of $713 million. Tesla's lease program allows it to get all of the money for the cars it leases up front, but general accounting rules require the money from a lease to be spread out over the course of the lease term.

Analysts polled by FactSet had forecast a profit of 8 cents per share on revenue of $683.5 million.

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla expects to deliver 7,500 Model S sedans in the second quarter, and reiterated its plan to sell more than 35,000 cars this year. The company also expects to increase production in the second quarter, to 8,500 to 9,000 cars.

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