Tesla Inc. delivered a record number of cars worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2020, but fell just shy of a goal for 500,000 units for the full year.
The electric-car maker delivered 180,570 vehicles in the last three months of the year, eclipsing its prior all-time high of 139,300 in the third quarter of 2020 while increasing 36% from 367,500 deliveries in 2019. The company has been ramping up output of its mass market models to meet rising global demand for battery-powered cars.
The Palo Alto, California-based company said in a statement on Saturday its delivery count should be viewed as slightly conservative and final numbers could vary by up to 0.5% or more.
The quarterly delivery figure is widely seen as a barometer of demand for both Tesla's vehicles and consumer interest in electric vehicles worldwide. The result capped a remarkable year for Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and his company, which joined the Standard & Poor's 500 Index on Dec. 21 after posting five consecutive quarters of profit.
The company's shares rallied 743% last year.
Tesla had predicted in January 2020 - before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic - it would "comfortably exceed" sales of half a million cars. The company said in October that it still expected to meet that target despite a temporary shutdown of its factories in the spring, and Musk signaled it was well within reach in a internal email sent to employees in December and viewed by Bloomberg.
Analysts also predicted Tesla would meet its sales goal for the year, which further buoyed the company's shares in the waning days of 2020. The surge, coming despite multiple share offerings, has vaulted Tesla's valuation to an auto industry-leading $669 billion.
The company undershot the 181,000-vehicle threshold it needed to clear in the most recent quarter, a 30% jump over the July-September period. The push largely depended on increased output from its Chinese plant and higher output in the U.S. of the newest car in its lineup: the Model Y.
On Saturday, Tesla said Model Y production in Shanghai has begun, with deliveries expected to begin soon.
While Tesla is the clear global market leader, its vehicle deliveries are tiny compared to the millions of gasoline-powered cars and trucks sold by established automakers such as General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. Those two carmakers and others are preparing to flood the nascent EV market with dozens of battery-powered models over the next five years.
To capitalize on its head start, Tesla is building two new vehicle assembly operations - one in Berlin that could eventually assemble as many as 500,000 cars annually, and another in Austin, Texas, that will make the brand's first pickup. Both are expected to start production later this year, joining its existing vehicle-assembly facilities in Fremont, California, and Shanghai.
Once known for niche luxury models such as its S sedan and X sport utility vehicle, Tesla has broadened its appeal with the 3 and Y models priced to start below $50,000. Musk said in September that he plans to start sales of a cheaper $25,000 Tesla by 2023.
Tesla sets price of China-made Model Y SUV below competitors
As usual, Tesla delivered many cars during the quarter's final days. Musk added an incentive to buyers in the final three days of the year, saying in a tweet that they would get three months of an optional driver-assistance tool Tesla calls Full Self-Driving.
Danielle Watson, a 31-year-old pharmacist, tweeted on Dec. 28 that she had just taken delivery of a Model Y. In a private message, the Greenville, South Carolina, resident said she took delivery in Charlotte, North Carolina - a sign the lure of Tesla's brand power in the U.S. is growing well beyond its home state of California.