The Wall Street Journal: Elon Musk steers Tesla to record deliveries in past year

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Tesla Inc. fell just shy of its goal of delivering at least half a million vehicles last year after the Covid-19 outbreak temporarily closed the company’s lone U.S. car plant.

The Silicon Valley electric-car maker Saturday said it delivered a record 499,550 vehicles globally last year, up from roughly 367,500 the previous year. Analysts surveyed by FactSet on average expected 493,000 Tesla deliveries in 2020.

The company’s resilience during the pandemic that has reduced road travel and damped auto sales globally has fueled investor exuberance for the electric-car maker. Its stock soared more than 700% last year.

Chief Executive Elon Musk, via Twitter, hailed the figures as a “major milestone,” adding that during the early days of Tesla he wasn’t certain the company would make it—a sentiment he has previously expressed.

Tesla TSLA, +1.57%   in the coming months faces a difficult task as it looks to introduce additional vehicle models and open new factories in Germany and Texas as part of Mr. Musk’s growth ambitions.

Tesla’s deliveries last year were buoyed by demand in China. Tesla began delivering cars from its new Shanghai plant in late 2019. Those sales helped to offset production slowdowns in the U.S., where Tesla had to close its Fremont, Calif., plant for several weeks starting in March as local authorities imposed restrictions on businesses to slow the spread of the virus.

The surge in deliveries has stoked Wall Street expectations for Tesla to post a record profit for the period and its first full year in the black when it reports 2020 fourth-quarter earnings in a few weeks. It would continue Tesla’s run of five quarters in a row of profit that led to the company’s inclusion in the S&P 500 index last month. 

Tesla’s performance through the pandemic differed from that of most of its rivals. Auto sales in much of the world languished last year as Covid-19 and measures to stem the spread of the virus kept people home, slowed production and put many out of work. Researcher LMC Automotive forecasts that 2020 demand for vehicles will come in around 14% below 2019 levels.

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