Tesla beats expectations with record vehicle deliveries

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The stock market bulls who drove Tesla’s shares up eightfold in 2020 were handed a new year present on Saturday, as the electric carmaker reported record deliveries of new vehicles that comfortably beat Wall Street expectations.

Tesla said it had delivered 180,570 vehicles during the fourth quarter, ahead of the 174,000 analysts had expected. It also came within a hair’s breadth of reaching the half-million target for 2020 that Elon Musk, chief executive officer, set earlier in the year, with deliveries hitting 499,550.

The latest figures suggested Tesla was firing on all cylinders at the end of a year in which the global automobile industry suffered a sharp contraction in sales. Sales were boosted by the rapid ramping up of production at a plant in Shanghai that opened early in the year and the launch of the Model Y, a crossover based on the company’s Model 3.

When Tesla showed its Model 3 in 2016, leading to a rush of deposits from potential buyers, Mr Musk predicted sales would hit as many as 1m vehicles in 2020. Though reaching just half that, the actual figure — an increase of 36 per cent from the year before — still showed that Tesla was scaling up its global operations more quickly than some had expected.

Mr Musk’s targets for Tesla have often turned out to be wildly overambitious, such as his claim that 1m of its vehicles would be operating as fully autonomous “robo-taxis” by the end of 2020. But he has still defied the short-sellers on Wall Street who have repeatedly predicted disaster for the company — despite admitting to his own frequent misgivings.

“At the start of Tesla, I thought we had (optimistically) a 10% chance of surviving at all,” Mr Musk tweeted after the latest delivery numbers were released. Last month, he claimed that financial pressures in the early days of the Model 3 once led him to seek a meeting with Tim Cook, head of Apple, about a possible sale.

Deliveries in the quarter also represented a new high, climbing 30 per cent from the previous peak hit during the third quarter. The company said on Saturday that it had started producing the Model Y in China, and that new plants in Texas and Germany are due to start production this year.

Tesla’s shares ended last year at a record high following its entry to the S&P 500 index in December, which valued the company at $669bn.

Even in the depths of Tesla’s financial difficulties, Mr Musk publicly maintained his lofty predictions. At the time, he said that he thought Tesla could one day be worth more than Apple, while admitting: “I could be delusional.”

Tesla is currently worth around 85 per cent of Apple’s $775bn value at the time — though the iPhone maker is now worth more than $2tr.