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USA: Tesla Motors Gears Up for Its Big Moment

Tesla Motors (NAS: TSLA) is set to report fourth-quarter and 2011 earnings after the market closes Wednesday. Are any surprises likely?

Probably not. Analysts are expecting somewhat wider losses (around $0.63 a share), according to Bloomberg, but that’s no surprise. With production of the Roadster ended, and production of the Model S not yet started, Tesla’s revenue is likely to be thin for a couple of quarters. More importantly, as Tesla gears up for what may be the most important summer in its history, all signs so far have indicated that the company is on track.

But for investors, watching those signs carefully will be critical.

Managing expectations carefully
Tesla drew some scrutiny recently after Fisker Automotive, a start-up builder of luxury hybrid cars that some have seen as a Tesla rival, fell on hard times after the Energy Department cut off the company’s access to a line of credit.

The Energy Department’s move came after Fisker missed a series of deadlines in its plan to build a plug-in hybrid at a former General Motors (NYS: GM) plant in Delaware. Tesla also has a government loan — $465 million worth — that it is using to put its all-important Model S sedan into production, something that is scheduled to happen by summer.

So is Tesla’s line of credit at risk? Not at all, CEO Elon Musk told The Wall Street Journal: Tesla’s plan to put the Model S into production and deliver the first customer vehicles in July is on schedule.

Musk’s remarks reiterated his statement in January that he was “highly confident” that the Model S would roll out on schedule. Tesla expects to draw down the remaining balance of that loan over the next few months, Musk told the Journal, as it completes work on the Model S’s assembly line in the California factory it acquired from Toyota last year.

It’s a safe bet that Musk will reiterate all of that Wednesday, and will confirm once again that the Model S is on track. So what else should shareholders keep an eye on?
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