Tesla is getting paid record amounts thanks to legacy auto’s failure to adopt EVs

(Photo: Andres GE)

Against all odds, Tesla managed to turn a profitable first quarter this year. Several factors came into play to accomplish this feat. The company was able to optimize its operations and vehicle production costs, Tesla Energy continued to ramp, and the Model Y proved profitable from the get-go. Apart from this, Tesla’s financials were also boosted by $354 million that came from selling regulatory credits. 

Tesla sold a record amount of regulatory credits in the first quarter, signifying a 64% increase compared to Q1 2019. As noted in a Car and Driver report, Tesla acquires regulatory credits across the globe. The credits are given out to carmakers based on the number of electric vehicles they sell. In other territories, the credits are given based on the emissions from a carmaker’s fleet. Tesla, being an all-electric car maker, is able to acquire these credits. 

In the case of California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program, carmakers are mandated to sell a certain number of electric vehicles that are relative to their total number of sales. If a company’s EV sales are insufficient, they are given fines unless they purchase credits from companies such as Tesla. So far, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors have admitted that they buy ZEV credits from the electric car maker. 

This presents a rather interesting set of circumstances for Tesla and its mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainability. The sale of regulatory credits generally happens when another automaker fails in meeting environmental standards, and so far, this failure has become a means for Tesla to strengthen its finances. This first quarter alone, Tesla’s results would have been less satisfactory without its regulatory credit sales. 

While there are challenges in the future, such as the US’ upcoming adoption of the less environmentally-friendly Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) emissions regulations, other regions such as Europe will likely provide Tesla with more opportunities to gain more financial incentives for its all-electric fleet. This means that as long as legacy auto drags its feet with its transition to an electric fleet, Tesla could end up strengthening its finances more and more. 

Unfortunately, reports about General Motors and Ford’s US production plans have revealed that the two veteran automakers intend to maintain a heavy emphasis on pickup trucks and SUVs all the way to the mid-2020s. Both Ford and GM talk a big game when it comes to their future EV plans, but the two companies’ production plans suggest otherwise. This trend may not be unique for the two American automakers either, as other legacy carmakers also seem to be having issues transitioning to an electric fleet. 

Embracing electric transportation will likely be a painful process for legacy automakers, as each company would have to abandon decades worth of innovation in the internal combustion engine for the sake of battery and electric motor tech. Tesla is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of this situation, and it may very well end up with a stronger balance sheet when the dust clears. 

Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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