Today: Tesla announces new business leasing program as reports claim that Model S sales growth slowed in the first three months of the year. Also: Tech stocks bounce back amid Heartbleed security scare.
The Lead: Amid concern about Model S sales, Tesla debuts business leases
Tesla Motors unveiled a plan that allows businesses to lease its Model S electric sedan Tuesday, as analysts exhibited concern that sales of the Palo Alto company's main product have begun to taper in the United States.
Tesla's new leasing program, which is more straightforward than the financing model unveiled a year ago for individual customers, was presented as a response to requests from potential customers who own businesses.
"Our customers in small and medium sized businesses have been asking for a leasing program for the ease and simplicity of being able to deduct the payments from their business taxes," the company's announcement read.
The news of a new way for potential customers to get their hands on a Model S arrived at an opportune time for the company, as reports surfaced that the pace of Model S sales has begun to slow down in its home country. Autodata reported Tuesday that Tesla sold 1,600 cars in the U.S. in March, adding up to total U.S. sales in the first quarter of 4,700, up just 1 percent from the same period a year before.
"We believe that Model S demand in the U.S. has plateaued," Barclays analyst Brian Johnson told the Los Angeles Times.
Tesla sold 6,892 cars in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to its quarterly earnings report, but did not break down the geography of its sales. If, as the Autodata report and analysts suggest, U.S. sales have slowed down, it makes international expansion even more important to the electric car maker, with most analysts eyeing China -- a market Tesla entered last year -- as the biggest potential boost to Model S sales.
"Tesla will be dependent on strong Chinese demand," Barclays analysts wrote in a note Tuesday, which added that that road is not smooth. "While we expect strong initial interest from early adopters in China, we see challenges to broader luxury market adoption."
Additional growth prospects for Elon Musk's car company will come from the introduction of its next all-electric offering, the SUV-like Model X, but it will not arrive until early 2015. In the meantime, Tesla is working on finding a home for its so-called Gigafactory, where the company hopes to manufacture lithium-ion batteries at an unseen pace.
Tesla stock bounced back Tuesday after recent weakness that was felt throughout the tech sector, gaining 3.5 percent to $214.79.
SV150 market report: Wall Street rebounds amid security scare
Tesla was not alone in Tuesday's bounceback, as stocks broke a three-session losing streak and technology stocks turned around despite a security scare that involved a host of Web companies including Yahoo.
A bug called Heartbleed, which was revealed by researchers Monday night, exposes a vulnerability in a popular encryption method called OpenSSL and could affect up to 70 percent of the Web, with the biggest name being Yahoo. The Sunnyvale Internet company reacted swiftly, telling The Mercury News on Tuesday afternoon, "Our team has successfully made the appropriate corrections across the main Yahoo properties ... and we are working to implement the fix across the rest of our sites right now." The need for robust security was brought into focus by a study released Tuesday by Mountain View security software firm Symantec, which said that data breaches exploded in 2013 and are unlikely to go away. "Each of the eight top data breaches in 2013 resulted in the loss of tens of millions of data records. By comparison, 2012 only had a single data breach reach that threshold," the report read. Yahoo gained 2.3 percent to $33.83 Tuesday, while Symantec rose 1.1 percent to $20.64.
Apple held steady, losing 3 cents to $523.44, as the Cupertino tech giant attempted to revive its lawsuit against former Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility, even while fighting Samsung in the courts; Google jumped 3.1 percent to $557.51 on the day. Yelp gained 1.9 percent to $67.25 while announcing spa and salon booking functionalities on its platform, part of a campaign to add direct interactions with businesses to its online-reviews offering; SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Robert Peck raised his rating on the San Francisco company's stock due to its recent drop, which cost the company about a third of its market capitalization in the past month. Intel announced that it would shutter a Costa Rica plant and lay off its 1,500 workers there, part of a plan that will see the Santa Clara chipmaker cut 5,000 jobs this year; shares advanced 1.6 percent to $26.91. Stock in Santa Clara television-tech company Rovi dove 11.9 percent to $20.50 after the company lost a patent-infringement suit against Amazon. Twitter fell 1.6 percent to $41.78 while unveiling a Web redesign that makes profile pages look similar to larger rival Facebook, which added 2.2 percent to close at $58.19.
Up: LinkedIn, Pandora, Workday, Tesla, Nvidia, eBay, Netflix, VMware, Google, SolarCity, AMD, Zynga, NetApp, Yahoo, Salesforce, Adobe, Facebook, Oracle, Yelp, Intel, Sandisk, Electronic Arts, Symantec
Down: Gilead, SunPower, Twitter, Applied Materials, Hewlett-Packard, Juniper
The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies: Up 13.74, or 1 percent, to 1,382.19
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 33.23, or 0.81 percent, to 4,112.99
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 10.27, or 0.06 percent, to 16,256.14
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 6.92, or 0.4 percent, to 1,851.96.
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/jowens510.