Tesla posted a $US702.1 million ($1 billion) net loss in the first quarter as sales of its electric cars slumped and demand appeared to be waning.

The company lost $US4.10 per share from January through March, when deliveries fell 31 per cent from the fourth quarter.

Tesla had warned it would lose money after turning two straight quarterly profits last year for the first time in its 15-year history.

Excluding one-time items and stock-based compensation, the company lost $US2.90 per share, worse than Wall Street estimates.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected a loss of $US1.15 per share. Revenue rose almost 40 per cent over a year ago. But it still fell short of analyst estimates of $US5.42 billion.

Last year, chief executive Elon Musk predicted quarterly profits in the future. But Tesla had trouble cutting the cost of its Model 3 mass-market electric vehicle.

The electric carmaker has lost nearly $US6 billion since setting out to revolutionise the auto industry 15 years ago, but CEO Elon Musk foresees a profitable future fueled in part by electric cars driven by robots as part of a ride-hailing service.

The mind-blowing concept is something Musk outlined in a plan he drew up in 2016.

Now he believes Tesla’s technology is capable of realizing his dream. And that terrifies some critics who worry Musk’s plan to transport passengers in self-driving Teslas will maim and kill people.

But if Musk can deliver on a promise that he made Monday to deploy self-driving vehicles and start the ride service next year, the business model might just work. And could help Tesla finally put its history of losses in its rear-view mirror.