January 6th, 2021 by Johnna Crider
It’s a mid-late Sunday morning and as my cats race around my home like its Nurburgring, I open Twitter to see a tweet by Earl of Frunkpuppy that inspires this piece. In his tweet, below, Earl shared an image of four Tesla-related headlines over the years.
Looking over the past year, it does seem as if Tesla was the star of its own Shakespeare play.
— 🐶Earl of Frunkpuppy🐶 (@28delayslater) January 3, 2021
Act I: Tesla Selling 500K Cars In 2020 “Absurd.”
The first act recaps a 2014 article published on Seeking Alpha by Mark Spiegel, who is well known for being a member of the “TSLAQ” group — people on Twitter who have been convinced or pretended to be convinced that Tesla would go bankrupt. Spiegel seems to block anyone (even me) who has anything positive to say about Tesla.
In his article, Spiegel addressed “bullish” Wall Street projections for Tesla, which was guidance from Tesla. Those projections showed that Tesla would go from selling 35,000 cars in 2014 to 500,000 cars in 2020. One reason Spiegel believed this wouldn’t happen is because it had never been done before. “No complex product manufacturer has ever grown that quickly from a revenue base of $3 billion or more.”
Act II: New China Factory Closed Due To Pandemic
Fast forward to 2020. As the new year, 2020, begins, everyone has a hopeful outlook — Tesla has just opened its Shanghai factory in China and is on the brink of becoming the world’s most valuable automaker — while being more than just an automaker.
Then the worst happens — a global pandemic begins. It starts in China, where Tesla just opened its brand new Gigafactory, and one wonders if Tesla’s new factory will be shut down, and for how long. The next headline from Frunkpuppy’s tweet comes from Observer. Tesla does face a test as its factory closes down. Even though Tesla’s second gigafactory and second Model 3 factory isn’t the only factory closing in China at this time (early 2020), the article claims that Tesla’s future looks increasingly shake. “Its new China factory, a big factor behind its stock surge lately, has halted production amid the deadly coronavirus epidemic.”
With Tesla being in China, the company is placed in a unique position that our own government failed to take advantage of when the pandemic and the lockdowns happened here. Tesla works with the Chinese government and reopens its factory as we shut down here in the US — yes, China manages to curb the virus and reopen fairly quickly. Tesla, being the only foreign company to own its own factory in China, has a unique learning opportunity (one that it did later use in reopening its Fremont factory after the shutdowns in California).
Act III: Tesla Shuts Down Fremont Factory
This next headline, “After Mounting Criticism, Tesla Will Shut Down California Factory,” comes from The New York Times. Tesla does shut down its California factory, a bit later than many expected. The article notes that Tesla “caused uproar by continuing production even after Alameda County officials issued a shelter-at-home order.” The article weaves a tale of a company that seemingly doesn’t care about the law or its employees but keeps out one key element: Elon Musk’s email to his employees telling them not to feel obligated to come to work:
“I’d like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please do not feel obligated to come to work. I will personally be at work, but that’s just me. Totally OK if you want to stay home for any reason.”
The article also failed to mention that other automakers were open for business at this time.
Before we get to the final act, I need to set the scene. It’s 2021 now, but the road to this moment in time has been rocky and challenging for everyone traveling it. For Tesla, there have been many challenges as well but it has met those challenge with its fierce spirit of innovation and this is what leads to the final act.
Tesla made history in 2020. It became the world’s most valuable automaker — against all odds. There was a stock split, drama with county officials as well as politicians, one of which cursed at Elon Musk on Twitter, the usual media attacks on Elon Musk, and the constant criticism of Tesla by the stock’s bears.
Tesla also held it’s Battery Day event, where it announced its 4860 tab-less battery cells. And in a leaked email back in October, Elon Musk encouraged Tesla employees to make that 500,000 goal for 2020. In the memo, Elon Musk said that Tesla had a shot at producing 500,000 cars this year. In the face of the most challenging year for many if not most people on the planet, Tesla had the chance to meet a goal that Spiegel and many others in 2014 said was absurd. Critics jeered, many thought this was impossible, but as we go into the final act, we can see that impossible can be broken up into two words: I’m Possible.
Final Act: Tesla Made 500,000 Cars In 2020
The headlines can be a bit confusing, but in a nutshell, Tesla has achieved its goal of producing 500,000 cars in 2020. As for delivering them, Tesla almost made it. Tesla was able to deliver 499,550 vehicles in 2020. Some of the headlines claimed that Tesla delivered 500,000 cars, while others painted a dramatically exaggerated tale of Tesla’s woeful failure from failing to deliver 500,000 cars. Also noteworthy: The 499,550 figure is an estimate, and Tesla’s initial estimates at the very beginning of the quarter tend to be conservative. So, it’s quite possible Tesla actually did reach 500,000. In any case, though, a tiny percentage difference does not really matter, and there’s a thing called “rounding up” that certainly applies in a case like this at a scale like this.
And one final comment on this: Tesla did surpass 500,000 vehicles produced in 2020, despite the pandemic, even basically reaching 510,000 (rounding up a tiny bit).
You can read more details about Tesla’s numbers here: Tesla: 499,550 Vehicles Delivered in 2020, 509,737 Vehicles Produced (Charts).
The tale above is just a snapshot of Tesla’s multi-faceted story. Tesla has had many bumps and bruises along the way as well as many successes. For a moment — in 2018 — things looked really dark, but in the end, Tesla prevailed. Today, we are at the dawn of another new year. We don’t know what 2021 will bring, but with hard work, high hopes, and a bit of faith, I believe that Tesla will continue to lead the EV revolution.
Tesla’s success is something that pushes other automakers to try new ways of thinking. Tesla has also proven that electric vehicles can also be both high-volume and profitable. So can renewables and clean energy — you don’t have to choose between profits and cleantech if you know how to lead and innovate.
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