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Tesla Swerves on Strategy, Trailed by Growing Doubts

Mr. Musk also said the move to online-only sales would become a strategic advantage. But Mr. Gordon, the University of Michigan professor, questioned whether Tesla would be able to maintain growth without brick-and-mortar stores. “They are not going to grow faster by being online only than by online plus stores,” he said. “It’s a logical impossibility.”

In the last three years, Tesla has missed several of the ambitious goals Mr. Musk has set. He once forecast that Tesla would turn out 500,000 cars in 2018, twice what it ultimately produced.

Mr. Musk announced last week that Tesla was accepting orders for a Model 3 priced at $35,000 — $8,000 less than the current basic model. But the federal tax credit on Tesla cars will drop to $1,875 on July 1, so none of the cars will be available for a total of less than $30,000, as he once heralded.

Tesla has reduced prices on its other cars several times in the last two months, including cuts of up to 30 percent on its priciest models last week, suggesting sluggish sales. The online publication InsideEVs, which follows Tesla closely, estimated that the company sold fewer than 8,000 cars in January, down from nearly 30,000 a month at the end of 2018.

Asked about sales trends, a Tesla spokesman pointed to a statement by Mr. Musk in his conference call about first-quarter earnings: “The demand for Model 3 is insanely high. The inhibitor is affordability. It’s just that people literally don’t have the money to buy the car.”

Like its car sales, Tesla’s residential solar business has hit turbulence, a problem that may be compounded by the store closings. Tesla had positioned its stores as a retail hub for the renewable-energy age, offering electric cars, solar panels and battery storage for both car and home.

“Similar to our approach to selling vehicles, we are also shifting sales of our energy and solar products worldwide to online only,” Tesla said in a statement. It said the model would allow customers to save thousands of dollars.


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