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Tesla posts first full-year profit on record China sales

Written by Nikkei Asia Published on   3 mins read

EV maker will take ‘as many batteries’ as Panasonic and others can produce.

Tesla posted its first annual profit on Wednesday, thanks to a blockbuster year in China and the accelerated adoption of electric vehicles around the globe.

For 2020, Tesla recorded USD 31.5 billion in total revenue, up 28% from the previous year, with automotive revenue accounting for USD 27.2 billion. The company ended the year strong with a 46% year-over-year revenue jump to USD 10.7 billion in the last three months.

The US electric vehicle maker made a USD 721 million profit in 2020, reversing its USD 862 million loss in 2019. That makes 2020 Tesla’s first profitable full year since it went public in 2010. The company has now logged six consecutive quarters in the black.

Tesla’s pandemic-defying performance has been supported by surging demand from China and expanding production at its two-year-old Shanghai factory. The company said it expects to achieve 50% average annual growth in vehicle deliveries “over a multiyear horizon,” as China brings more growth potential.

“We are currently the leader in the Chinese market. We’re mostly doing something right,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during the earnings call.

The company does not break down sales in each country. But data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that Tesla sold around 135,400 vehicles there last year, a record for the company and making it the bestselling EV brand in the country.

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Tesla previously said it had delivered a total of 499,550 vehicles in 2020, just shy of the company’s half-million delivery goal but a jump from the 367,500 cars delivered in 2019.

Despite the surge in China, Musk said the country’s adoption rate of Tesla’s autopilot feature — known as full self-driving or FSD — is the lowest of any of its markets. Only 1% to 2% of Chinese Tesla owners signed up for the driving assistance software.

“We definitely have to make it work well in China. I think if that works well in China, then we will have a break for FSD,” Musk said.

Tesla said it has begun Model Y SUV production in Shanghai, with deliveries expected shortly. The company started taking orders for its China-made Model Y sport utility vehicles last week after it slashed the price by 30% to RMB 339,900 (USD 52,600), according to the Tesla China website.

The company said it will also begin producing the Model Y at its new plants in Austin, Texas, and Brandenburg, Germany, this year. The latest model will be powered by Tesla’s new in-house designed battery cells, known as 4680.

Tesla announced at its Battery Day event in September last year that it plans to produce some of the 4680 batteries at its Fremont, California, factory. However, the EV maker stressed that it will continue to purchase from its battery partners, and urged suppliers to increase production, as it will ” buy as much as they can send” to the company.

“I want to be really clear that Tesla wants to increase purchases from suppliers, and we’ve been very clear with suppliers, whether be CATL or Panasonic or LG, that we will take as many batteries as they can produce,” Musk said.

CATL is China’s leading battery maker, while LG of South Korea and Japan’s Panasonic are also big suppliers.

Nikkei Asia previously reported that Panasonic will begin producing prototypes of the 4680 for Tesla as early as 2021. Though Tesla plans to make the new cell itself, battery industry watchers say Panasonic will seek to take on some of the manufacturing, as it is unlikely the automaker will be able to handle the production entirely on its own.

This article first appeared on Nikkei Asia. It’s republished here as part of 36Kr’s ongoing partnership with Nikkei.


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