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Tesla Appears to Turn a Corner, Lifting Valuation to $80 Billion

Dana Hull
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Tesla’s Model 3 Is the Only EV Doing Real Volume in the U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Tesla Inc. is back on top -- this time, it seems, with some real staying power.

The Model 3 maker delivered a record 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter and has begun production at a new factory near Shanghai. With the stock soaring to close Friday at an all-time high, Tesla’s market capitalization finished the week just short of $80 billion -- more than double Ford Motor Co.’s stock value. And the Model Y, its next crossover SUV, is slated to launch this summer.

“Tesla is close to escape velocity,” said Gene Munster, managing partner of the venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “Demand for electric vehicles is real, and people are stretching to buy a Model 3. Everything is beginning to gel.”

That’s saying a lot for a company famous for taking big steps forward, only to then slip steps back. Take 2019: after finishing strong the year before, Elon Musk decided to dismiss 7% of the workforce. First-quarter deliveries were dismal. Customers and employees alike were whipsawed by a shifting retail strategy, and the chief executive officer remained a magnet for controversy.

But after years of drama, there’s a growing sense among investors that Tesla is finally hitting its stride. The company reported a surprise third-quarter profit in October and the shares have been on a tear ever since.

Established automakers have taken their shots at Musk with so-called “Tesla Killers,” but no serious competition has materialized thus far. U.S. sales of General Motors Co.’s fully electric Chevrolet Bolt plummeted 47% in the fourth quarter and finished down down 9% for the year.

During Tesla’s last earnings call, Musk said he thinks the upcoming Model Y will outsell the S, X and 3 combined, without giving a time frame. He announced plans in November to build a third auto factory, near Berlin -- the backyard of German automakers BMW AG, Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG, whose initial electric offerings haven’t drawn much demand.

China, the world’s largest auto market, is the big wild card for this year. Tesla said Friday that battery production for its cars there began in late December.

Local pack supply is the gating factor standing in the way of the plant boosting output. Tesla said it’s already managed to assemble almost 1,000 cars that are ready for sale. With more battery production, it will be capable of 3,000 a week, according to the company.

“Shanghai deliveries should be the next catalyst to drive volume growth,” Ben Kallo, a Robert W. Baird analyst with the equivalent of a buy rating on Tesla, wrote in a report. “Importantly, the factory appears to be ramping faster than we expected.”

In 2012, the year Tesla launched the Model S sedan, the company delivered just 2,650 cars. Seven years later, that was up to 367,500 -- 138 times as many.

Loup Ventures’ Munster said Tesla should meet what he says are Wall Street’s expectations for 2020. Analysts on average are predicting 463,000 deliveries for this year -- another 28% annual jump.

“If Tesla can successfully launch the Model Y,” he said, “they will have fully arrived.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dana Hull in San Francisco at dhull12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net, Anne Reifenberg

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