Tesla needs to expand rapidly to justify its $600 billion market capitalization.
Tesla smashed previous production and delivery records in the fourth quarter of 2020, shipping more than 180,000 vehicles to customers over the last three months. That’s 30 percent higher than Tesla’s Q3 deliveries, which itself was a record figure for the company.
For 2020 as a whole, Tesla delivered 499,550 vehicles to customers. This is 36 percent higher than the 367,500 vehicles Tesla delivered to customers in 2019.
Tesla didn’t quite hit the company’s self-imposed target of half a million deliveries for the year. But the miss is literally a rounding error and Tesla’s 2020 performance is still pretty impressive. The pandemic made 2020 an unusually challenging year for the auto industry. Tesla’s Fremont factory—like those of most competitors in the US—was closed between late March and mid-May.
We can expect Tesla to deliver many more vehicles in 2021. At its Q4 rate of 180,000 vehicles per quarter, Tesla should be able to ship more than 720,000 vehicles from its Fremont and Shanghai factories in 2021. On top of that, Tesla is aiming to bring new factories online in Texas and Germany in 2021. While it might not be feasible for Tesla to produce a million vehicles in 2021, it should be easily in reach for 2022. Elon Musk has said he aims to have Tesla producing 20 million cars a year by the end of the decade.
Tesla needs to expand rapidly to justify its astronomical stock price. Tesla’s current stock price values the company at more than $600 billion dollars, far more than any other automaker. That despite the fact that industry leaders like Toyota, Volkswagen, and GM each produce millions of vehicles per year, while Tesla delivered fewer than half a million last year. Wall Street is apparently betting that Tesla will grow into a colossus while enjoying fatter profit margins than the incumbents. Tesla will need a lot more than four factories to meet those high expectations.
While Tesla’s vehicle shipments have been rising overall, sales of the company’s high-end Model S and Model X continued to slump in Q4. These cars haven’t had a significant refresh in years, giving consumers little reason to pay a premium for them over the newer Model 3 and Model Y. Tesla delivered 18,920 of these high-end vehicles in Q4 2020, down from 19,450 in Q4 2019 and way down from 27,550 vehicles in Q4 2018.
That trend may reverse later this year with an expected refresh of the Model S. Tesla also has several new vehicles in the pipeline. Tesla’s Semi truck, the Cybertruck pickup, and a new Roadster sports car are all scheduled to begin production in 2021—though it seems likely that one or two of them won’t actually debut until 2022. The expanded product line should allow Tesla to continue boosting production without worrying about saturating the market.