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Tesla's showroom in Washington, D.C. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Few people — except maybe Elon Musk himself — predicted Tesla's impressive third-quarter profit results, especially after the sideshow of the past three months.

Why it matters: This could be a turning point for Tesla. The operating improvements reported today suggest the company has the potential to buckle down and deliver sustained profits after losing money for much of its 15-year existence.

Driving the news: Today Tesla reported $312 million in third quarter net income and free cash flow of $881 million, only its third quarterly profit in history. And Musk says he expects continued positive cash flow and profits for all quarters going forward, except for occasional debt repayments.

"We do not intend to raise equity or debt, at least that’s ... our intention right now. That may change in the future."
— Elon Musk

The details: Deliveries of Model 3 took off after serious production bottlenecks, to a total of 56,065 units.

  • Labor hours per car dropped by 30%.
  • Better quality translated into less scrap, or waste, in the factory.

Flashback: Musk got into trouble in August with a tweet that he planned to take the publicly traded company private and had "funding secured." An SEC investigation resulted in $20 million fines for both Musk and the company, along with an agreement to bring in an independent chairman.

What's next: Musk stuck mostly to the script on Wednesday evening's analysts call, while sharing glimpses of the future:

  • He recently approved the prototype design for the Model Y crossover to start production in 2020.
  • Tesla continues to make progress on an electric semi-truck and new roadster.
  • He's most excited about plans for a Tesla pickup truck.
  • Tesla will operate its own ride-hailing business to compete with Uber and Lyft.
  • Aside from company-owned fleets, Tesla companies will be able to rent out their own cars for hire.
  • Tesla cars will get a more powerful computing chip to support self-driving capability starting in Q1. But Teslas can’t drive themselves until the software is ready. No word on when that will happen.

What we're watching: That long-promised $35,000 Tesla Model 3 remains a mystical unicorn. Perhaps March, or February, he says.

"If we could produce a $35,000 car today, we would do it."
— Elon Musk

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show Musk says he expects future profits in all quarters going forward with the exception of occasional debt repayments.

Go deeper

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

32 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

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