Tesla had its sixth-consecutive profitable quarter in the fourth quarter of 2020, the company said Wednesday, making it the first time the company has booked a profitable year. Tesla’s day as a startup, it’s fair to say, are well in the rearview mirror.
Tesla reported a fourth-quarter 2020 profit of $270 million, and a full-year profit of $721 million, on revenues of $31.5 billion for the year. But let’s talk about that $270 million number for a minute since, again, like in the third-quarter it was not bigger than another number on Tesla’s shareholder deck: The amount of money Tesla made selling regulatory credits to other automakers, which was $401 million in the fourth quarter.
That amount is an increasingly small proportion of Tesla’s revenues — a little less than four percent in the fourth quarter, compared with seven percent in the third quarter — but it’s still the kind of thing Tesla critics will use to cudgel the company: Wake me up when Tesla is making all of its profits from purely selling cars.
That moment could be coming this year, as Tesla said it expected to have all four of its plants across the world — in Shanghai, Berlin, Austin, and Fremont — up and running by the end of 2021. It also said that the Tesla Semi would see its first deliveries this year.
It also is updating the Model S and Model X. Both have been declining in sales in part likely because their designs are several years old, but Tesla has a plan to change that. The S and X will both get new powertrains and new interiors, along with some more minor changes to the exterior. It seems completely inevitable that Tesla will eventually introduce proper model years but they haven’t done so yet. That’s when we’ll know Tesla has really made it.