Tesla Stock Decline Muted as Panasonic Voices Support

Tesla Motors Inc.’s share price slide this week, triggered by news of a third Model S fire and quarterly results that dissatisfied some investors, eased as the its main battery-cell supplier voiced support for the carmaker.

Tesla slipped 1.3 percent to $137.95 yesterday in New York after dipping more than 5 percent. The maker of premium electric cars led by Elon Musk plunged 15 percent and 7.5 percent in the two days after releasing results on Nov. 5.

The company is investigating a Nov. 6 fire involving a Model S near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the third Tesla accident to result in a blaze in about five weeks. The fire occurred after the car hit a metal tow hitch that had fallen onto Interstate 24, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said. The driver wasn’t hurt.

“We pay great attention to safety issues and so does Tesla,” Hideaki Kawai, chief financial officer for Kadoma, Japan-based Panasonic Corp., said in an interview yesterday. “I don’t have any concerns.”

Panasonic, which last month announced plans to supply Tesla with as many as 2 billion lithium-ion battery cells, has a 1.2 percent stake in the Palo Alto, California-based electric-car maker. The company also counts Daimler AG and Toyota Motor Corp. as investors and customers.

Investigation Encouraged

This week’s almost 15 percent decline for Tesla was the biggest since January 2012, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“The short-term oriented folks are probably the ones that have been selling off this week,” said Elaine Kwei, an equity analyst with Jefferies Group in New York who rates Tesla a buy. “It’s always a tug of war with this company.”

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, in an interview on Nov. 7 called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate circumstances that led to the fire in Tennessee.

“NHTSA is in close communication with Tesla and local authorities gathering information about the incident to determine if additional action is necessary,” Karen Aldana, a spokeswoman for the agency, said on Nov. 7 in an e-mail.

The investigating trooper hasn’t yet been contacted by NHTSA regarding the Tesla fire, Dalya Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, said in an e-mail.

Earlier Fires

Liz Jarvis-Shean, a Tesla spokeswoman, declined to comment on Ditlow’s suggestion that the Model S battery casing needs to be strengthened.

Two earlier Model S fires, in Washington state Oct. 1 and in Mexico in mid-October, occurred the same month Tesla shares dropped 17 percent, its first monthly decline since February and the biggest since December 2010.

NHTSA said on Oct. 24 that it found no evidence the Oct. 1 fire, which happened on the first day of a government shutdown, resulted from defects or violations of U.S. safety standards. The agency said it was aware of the Mexico incident and would monitor the performance of Tesla vehicles.

Even after three days of declines, Tesla shares have surged more than fourfold this year after the electric-car maker reported its first quarterly profits. The stock’s performance is the best this year in the Nasdaq 100 Index, with a gain of 307 percent.

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