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Elon Musk says Tesla hopes to ramp up solar roof production in Buffalo

Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk still is expecting production to ramp up this year for the company's long-awaited solar roof that will be produced in Buffalo.

Musk said in a tweet Monday night that the company is "spooling up production line rapidly. Hoping to manufacture ~1000 solar roofs/week by end of this year."

Musk's tweet came after Tesla issued a second-quarter earnings report that made no mention of the solar roof and executives provided no update during a conference call with analysts on the production schedule for a product that the company is counting on to jump-start its rapidly shrinking solar energy business.

Musk earlier this year said that 2019 would be the "year of the solar roof," but the company has yet to begin high-volume production of the product, which it unveiled in October 2016. Musk said last month that Tesla was working on version three of the solar roof, without ever detailing the previous versions.

Tesla has repeatedly pushed back the target date for ramping up solar roof production several times, including twice since last fall. Musk has a long history of making ambitious predictions - including many involving the timetables for Tesla's electric vehicles - and then missing those targets.

In January, for instance, Tesla predicted that solar roof production would increase significantly by the end of June, after failing to meet its previous timetable to ramp up solar roof production by the end of 2018.

"It’s quite a hard problem, and then making it easy to install, getting the cost low," Musk said last month. Tesla expects to offer a 30-year warranty on the roof, and Musk also has said testing its durability has been challenging.

A Tesla spokeswoman said the company had nothing to add, beyond Musk's tweet. In a regulatory filing this week, Tesla said it planned to increase solar roof production in Buffalo “over the remainder of 2019 and into 2020.”

The solar roof is expected to cost two to three times more than a conventional roof, but Musk believes the savings from the electricity it generates will make the overall cost comparable with a conventional roof, plus normal electric utility bills.

Tesla has been focusing mostly on its electric vehicle business as it tries to become profitable on a consistent basis. Tesla's solar energy business installed just 29 megawatts of solar generating capacity in the second quarter, a nearly two-thirds drop from a year ago, as it pushed sales online and in its stores as a way to reduce costs.

The second-quarter deployments were 47% less than in the first quarter and the lowest for any three-month period dating back to at least 2013, when the solar business was a standalone company known as SolarCity. Just three years ago, the rooftop solar business deployed more than 200 megawatts in a single quarter.

Tesla previously was the undisputed market leader in rooftop solar – with a commanding market share of more than 33% as recently as 2015. It now is No. 3, with a 6% share of the residential market, behind Sunrun and Vivint Solar, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie. Its market share is likely to drop further after the second quarter plunge in deployments.

Ramping production of the solar roof would help Tesla keep its promise to the state to create 1,460 jobs at the Buffalo plant by April 2020. The plant had 730 workers in mid-April, which means the company would have to double employment there – at a time when its conventional rooftop solar sales are falling  – in just 12 months.

Tesla is broadening the products it makes at the Buffalo factory beyond solar energy, to include electrical components for its batteries and its electric vehicle charging stations.

If it doesn't hit the job target, Tesla could face a $41.2 million penalty from the state, which used $750 million in taxpayer money to build and partially equip the South Park Avenue factory.

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