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Elon Musk claims Tesla solar production will jump. Does that violate his SEC accord?

Elon Musk
Producing 1,000 solar roofs a week, as Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk predicted on Twitter, would be a massive increase for the company.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP)

Elon Musk tweeted a Tesla Inc. production number that the company hadn’t communicated previously, presenting the first test case of whether his April settlement with securities regulators has made him more disciplined on social media.

The post in question concerns Tesla’s solar roof, which Musk unveiled in late 2016 and has struggled to mass-produce. When asked by a follower for an update on the product, the chief executive replied Monday that he was hoping the company would manufacture about 1,000 roofs a week by the end of the year.

The tweet appears to fall under the scope of Musk’s amended accord with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Under the agreement, Musk must get preapproval from a Tesla securities lawyer before posting production figures that haven’t been disseminated before.

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Neither Tesla nor Musk previously issued a projection for how many roofs the company will produce by the end of this year. Representatives for Tesla didn’t immediately respond when asked whether Musk obtained preapproval before sending his tweet. Judy Burns, an SEC spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Musk reached the revised deal with the SEC after the agency claimed he was in contempt of a settlement stemming from allegedly fraudulent tweets sent almost a year ago about taking Tesla private. Without clearing a post with Tesla counsel ahead of time, Musk tweeted in February that the company would make half a million cars in 2019. He drafted a clarifying follow-up tweet hours later, with the help of a lawyer.

Tesla didn’t mention the solar roof product in its second-quarter investor letter last week, and executives didn’t broach it on the ensuing earnings call. While the company did say in a filing Monday that it’s working on design iterations and testing to improve its manufacturing capabilities, it didn’t provide a production forecast.

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Producing 1,000 roofs a week would be a massive increase for the company. At one point in 2018, it was making enough shingles to cover three to five homes a week, two former employees said. The company installed just 29 megawatts of conventional solar panels in the second quarter — its fewest megawatts yet in a single period. That’s down from its previous low of 47 megawatts in the first quarter. At its height, SolarCity installed more than 200 megawatts over three months.

Once the king of the U.S. rooftop panel industry, Tesla relinquished the throne to Sunrun Inc., then dropped from the No. 2 spot earlier this year. Tesla’s purchase of SolarCity generated little in the way of earnings but accounts for more than one-fifth of Tesla’s $10 billion of outstanding debt.

In March, Musk declared 2019 would be the “year of the solar roof.” He said during Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting last month that Tesla was installing the product in eight states.


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