July 28, 2017 / 6:40 PM / 22 days ago

Tesla climbs as Musk prepares to hand over first Model 3 cars

Signage is displayed outside of Tesla Motors before the Tesla Energy Powerwall Home Battery event in Hawthorne, California April 30, 2015.Patrick T. Fallon

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Shares of Tesla Inc rose nearly 1 percent on Friday ahead of a handover to customers of its first Model 3 sedans, the electric cars that Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk is betting will propel his company into the mass market.

Tesla is counting on the Model 3 to help turn the cash-losing company into a profitable one, and its event later on Friday at its factory in Fremont, California comes as the car maker's stock trades down 12 percent from a record high set in June.

Fueled by expectations that Tesla will become a carbon-free energy and transportation heavyweight, Tesla's stock remains up 58 percent year to date, but it is also a favorite among short sellers.

Shorts sellers have about $8.5 billion bet against Tesla, equivalent to about 20 percent of the company's float, according to Astec Analytics.

The $35,000 Model 3 is designed for easy production, with output targeted to reach 20,000 per month by December. The Silicon Valley car company aims to quickly ramp up its factory to reach a production target of 500,000 cars per year in 2018.

Tesla's last launch was the luxury Model X SUV in 2015, which had a number of production issues.

Tesla reports its second-quarter results on Wednesday, and investors are keen for an update on how quickly its output is expanding after deliveries for the first half of 2017 came in at the low end of the company's own forecast.

"This evening's event will keep investors focused on the Model 3 ramp, and less on the upcoming quarter," Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a note to clients. Johnson has a an "underweight" rating on Tesla.

Skeptics believe Tesla's growth targets are unrealistic and that it is at risk of being overtaken by General Motors Co , BMW and other deep-pocketed manufacturers that are ramping up their own electric-vehicle offerings.

The stock was up 0.86 percent at $337.33.

Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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