In classic Tesla fashion, Elon Musk shared an almost insane goal back in 2016. While speaking with analysts in a conference call, Musk remarked that he believes Tesla has a shot at achieving a production rate of 1 million cars a year. This statement was met with much criticism, considering that just the year prior, Tesla delivered just over 50,500 vehicles.
As the US auto industry is starting what could very well be a long road to recovery from a pandemic, it is starting to become evident that Musk’s goal may end up being feasible after all.
The year has been cruel to the automotive industry. Back in April, North American car factories that are known to produce about a million vehicles a month ended up producing fewer than 5,000 units. But while the year has been painful for the car industry, some recovery started becoming evident in recent months. Just last month, some large automakers reported sales that beat their 2019 numbers, hinting that an upswing may be on the way.
Amidst this trend is the one outlier in the US auto industry: Tesla. The electric car maker has felt the full brunt of the pandemic, as shown in the extended closure of its Fremont Factory from mid-March to mid-May. Despite this, the company was able to show a profitable second quarter, and this past Q3, it delivered a record 139,300 vehicles, up 50% from Q2 2020. The company also produced 145,036 cars in the third quarter, up 76% from the second quarter.
What is rather remarkable is that Tesla has decided to stand by its initial goal of delivering half a million cars this 2020. This target was already ambitious without the pandemic. With the pandemic, the company’s refusal to adjust its delivery targets seems downright insane. Yet if the company’s Q3 and potential Q4 results are any indication, Tesla may actually be closer to its 1-million-car-per-year goal than expected.
Tesla has delivered about 318,000 vehicles so far this year. For Tesla to meet its goal of delivering 500,000 vehicles in 2020, the company would have to deliver over 180,000 cars in the fourth quarter. This is yet another record for the company, and it is one that would likely be challenging. RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak, in a statement to The New York Times, noted that while 500,000 cars is “not an unattainable goal,” achieving it now “seems increasingly difficult.”
Yet despite these challenges, the fact that Tesla seems to be in striking distance of its pre-pandemic 2020 delivery goal represents an incredibly notable shift for the company. Just a little over a year ago, after all, Tesla was a much different automaker. It was still an embattled EV company, seemingly scrambling to raise money while TSLA short-sellers circled like sharks smelling blood in the water. Tesla ultimately proved its critics wrong, posting four profitable quarters as of Q2 2020.
If Tesla could come close or achieve its goal of producing and delivering over 180,000 vehicles in Q4 2020, the company would only be 70,000 cars short of a 250,000-vehicle-per-quarter run-rate. Once that is achieved, hitting 1 million cars per year in both production and deliveries will only be a matter of time. Granted, this is a rather ambitious step, but one must note that Tesla is pretty much taking on 2020 with just one and a half factories.
Today, Tesla only produces cars in two sites: the Fremont Factory and Gigafactory Shanghai. And even then, Giga Shanghai is not yet fully ramped, with the facility yet to start Model Y production and the Model 3 line has only started operating with 3 shifts. This means that this year, Tesla has pursued its ambitious goals with a main factory in the US that was closed for over a month and a Chinese plant whose Phase 1 is now just hitting its stride.
These circumstances will likely change by next year. Tesla is in the process of building two new vehicle production facilities: Gigafactory Berlin and Gigafactory Texas. Both facilities are designed to produce high-volume vehicles, with the German plant manufacturing the Model Y and Texas building the Cybertruck, a vehicle that has received well over half a million orders, as per remarks from CEO Elon Musk.
Of course, Tesla’s production and deliveries still only comprise a small part of the auto market. Yet despite this, the company’s rapid rise and the equally quick emergence of the electric vehicle sector means that Tesla is poised to dominate an industry that is still forming. Michelle Krebs, an executive editor at Cox Automotive, a market research firm, said it best in a statement to the NYT.
“Tesla is the EV market right now. It’s still a tiny part of the market, and they are going to face more competition, but they are now well established,” she said.