To kick off this article, I’ll make an important note: this is not about Tesla stock. Because of how much Tesla short sellers insert themselves into discussions of Tesla [TSLA], and how long and deep the battles of logic & math are between those short sellers and Tesla shareholders (of whom I am one), some people assume that every discussion of Tesla sales is about the stock. Perhaps many people assume that, but, no, young Jedi, not everything is about the stock. The stock is just a sideshow. Now let’s get on to the story.
Without a doubt, Tesla has become a manufacturing wonder, a marketing wonder, and an automotive wonder. You really can’t debate this without drifting into Trumpian psychobabble logic. Sure, Tesla’s production ramp for the Model S, the Model X, and now the Model 3 aren’t as smooth as something out of Sim City, but it has been rapid, steep, and nearly unbelievable. Indeed, I would say that many of the Tesla skeptics of years ago were being logical. How could Tesla achieve the tremendous, record-shattering growth Elon Musk had set forth as its target? Impossible.
But Tesla is doing it.
There are many ways to look at the numbers. I like charts for that (have you noticed?), but sometimes some simple math is just as fun.
I was covering Tesla back in 2012. It’s when I started doing so. The Model S hit the market, to much fanfare, excitement, optimism, and skepticism. Many followers staked out their positions on the company back then and haven’t budged since. For some, it was stunning and exhilarating that Tesla was releasing a production electric car that absolutely demolished the premium-class competition in terms of performance and was akin to an iPad on wheels. The immense storage space, unmatched safety, zero emissions, immediately timeless design language, and — again — performance stunned those extremely early followers and adopters. In the 3rd quarter of 2012, Tesla delivered 321 vehicles. (Woohoo!) It’s close enough in history that I can still remember and feel the atmosphere at the time. We can still feel the excitement of that achievement. But the volume output was puny compared to what Tesla would be producing a few shorts years later, and puny compared to what is needed in terms of overall electrification of transport. Nonetheless, it was the start — the seeds of what Tesla has become today were planted in that quarter.
When looking at company growth, though, doing an equation using the first month of deliveries is a bit unfair. Going from 1 sale to 10 sales would mean 9900% growth. The volume growth of 9, however, would be meh (unless we’re talking about Starhoppers). So, the percentage growth looks amazing but is not very relevant.
So, instead of comparing with Q3 2012 deliveries, I’m focusing this report around Q3 2013 and Q3 2017 deliveries.
From the 3rd quarter of 2013, one year after Tesla Model S deliveries began, to the 3rd quarter of this year, 2019, the numbers show that Tesla deliveries (which are technically also sales) grew a tremendous 1664%.
From the 3rd quarter of 2016, three years ago, to the 3rd quarter of 2019, Tesla sales grew 291%. From just the 3rd quarter of 2017, two years ago, to the 3rd quarter of 2019, Tesla sales grew 271%. Find me a startup company, in the automotive industry or elsewhere, that wouldn’t be thrilled with such growth.
Tesla is not purely a software company. This is not a company producing a simple, small product. This growth is growth of what is essentially the most complicated and expensive consumer product we buy, the automobile. The kind of percentage growth noted above for such a large and complicated product is astounding. Even many of us who believed in Elon Musk’s aggressive forecasts weren’t super confident they could actually be achieved. We were perhaps more hopeful than convinced of the possibility. Going from 5,500 quarterly sales in Q3 2013 to 97,000 sales in Q3 2019? Possible? Maybe. Probably? Unlikely. Certain? Hell no.
I should note here, for the record, Tesla is currently on track to nail Elon Musk’s 2014 forecast for 2020 production and sales. That’s impressive. You can criticize Elon Musk for sometimes being too optimistic on short-term and mid-term forecasts, but to see that a 2014 forecast is headed towards realization should make any critic question their assumptions about Elon Musk’s vision, business acumen, and ability to achieve aggressive targets.
Those on more of a skeptical or negative side of the Tesla narrative may want to point out here that Tesla’s Q3 2019 sales are “only” up 16% compared to last year’s numbers. However, one has to recognize that year-over-year growth isn’t always as smooth as you imagine when looking at an S-curve graph. Not only does word of mouth need to spread in the case of the Tesla Model 3, but Tesla also needs to being some new vehicle models to market in order to see continued strong step growth in sales. Tesla currently has only 3 models. Only one of those is a mass-market vehicle (the Tesla Model 3) — but if the same formula can be applied to other popular, mass-market classes, why wouldn’t Tesla growth continue to skyrocket? When the Tesla Model Y and Tesla Pickup hit Tesla showrooms, you can certainly expect another spike or two in demand and deliveries.
1664% growth in the automotive industry in 6 years, to nearly 100,000 sales a quarter — astounding. What have you done in the past 6 years? To the people who claim Elon Musk isn’t a good CEO or doesn’t know how to manage a company well: who else has seen such strong, continued growth in a major hardware industry?
Related: 8 “Impossible” Goals Tesla Achieved
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Images by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica