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Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Tesla said Friday it delivered 184,800 cars in the first quarter — exceeding analyst expectations (177,822).

Why it matters: That tops the previous record set in Q4. It's also more than double the vehicles delivered at the same time last year.

It's a strong start to 2021 for Tesla. Tesla defied the pandemic and turned out a string of profitable quarters as the global economy crumbled, though it's unclear how the global chip shortage will affect the electric carmaker.

Go deeper: Car prices rise as chip shortage hits dealer showrooms

Go deeper

Car prices rise as chip shortage hits dealer showrooms

Ford F-150 pickup trucks for sale at a dealership in Colma, Calif. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Carmakers saw gangbuster sales in March, boosted by consumers' $1,400 stimulus checks, but analysts warned of volatility ahead as production troubles mount.

Why it matters: Car prices are rising because of inventory shortages, and as the spring selling season begins and consumer sentiment improves, it could be harder for shoppers to find the vehicle they want at an affordable price.

Driving the news: Automakers reported strong demand in March, and forecasters say they expect overall first-quarter sales to rise about 8 percent over a pandemic-wracked early 2020, Automotive News reported.

  • Toyota, Honda, Kia and Hyundai were among those reporting strong sales in March.
  • "The first quarter ended strong, setting the market up for an incredible spring from a demand perspective," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive.
  • Stimulus payments, tax refunds, vaccination progress and warmer weather are all helping to boost consumer sentiment, he said.
  • "All those things are coming together right now, and the industry would likely be setting all-time sales records if it were not for tight supplies and elevated prices."

What's happening: After two months of factory shutdowns early in the pandemic, the industry is now getting hit with shortages of key components, notably computer chips that power vehicle electronics.

  • The chip shortage has snowballed into a bigger crisis, with multiple factories temporarily closed, said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights.
  • "We’re seeing the industry being hit hard on both sides: Retail customers are being offered fewer choices and paying higher prices, while fleet customers are likely seeing their orders delayed."

By the numbers: New vehicle inventory on sale at dealerships is down by 36% in March 2021 compared with a year ago, according to Edmunds.

  • The average transaction price for new vehicles in March was estimated to be $40,563, versus $38,601 a year ago.
  • Used vehicles sold for an estimated $22,663, on average, up from $20,273 last year.

Trucks and SUVs have been hit the hardest. Although their high profit margins have been a bright spot for automakers during the pandemic, supplies are running low because of the chip shortage.

  • Truck inventory was down by 60% in March compared to a year ago, per Edmunds.
  • The average transaction price for a new full-size pickup is estimated at $54,763 compared to $51,164 a year ago.

The bottom line: It's a basic issue of supply and demand.

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

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