In 2018, Tesla showed its biggest ever quarterly profit, and the first surplus in two years. The company was delivered close to 100,000 model 3s in the first full year with the production of the most affordable vehicle it does. SpaceX, one of Tesla's CEO Elon Musk's other companies, launched its all-new Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time – and Musk used it to send one of the original Tesla Roadsters into the room. Of these, 2018 was a great success for Tesla.
Of course, there's more to the story: a failed plan to go private, announced by Musk on Twitter; a steak with the SEC; difficulties in retaining senior executives not called Elon Musk; and a close conversation with death. There were questions about the safety of Tesla's cars, the safety of the workers who did the cars, and the customer service purchases received. What could be seen as a return year for Tesla was in fact more like a roller coaster, which was reflected in the stock price, which started this year at $ 323, touched as high as $ 387 and as low as $ 244 before it was seen $ 334 at the end of the deal December 28 ̵
1; a slight improvement.
But Musk "bet on the company" on model 3, and 2018 was about looking to see if that gambling paid off. It meant that the mountainous moments were often elusive for Tesla supporters (and critics' coin), especially because the company was just weeks away from death at some point, according to Musk himself.
The year did not start well: Tesla had lost $ 2 billion in 2017 when it was model 3 production from the ground, yet the company was months behind its targets for that car. Only 1500 model 3s were delivered by January 1, 2018 – far from the 5,000 per week award Musk originally promised for late 2017.
Tesla Model 3 / Photo by James Bareham / The Verge  Musk also promised that when the ball rolled on Model 3, production would increase exponentially. The climb began in early 2018, but it was not until Musk admitted that Tesla was pushing to automate the production line heavily, was a mistake that Model 3 really took off. Musk scaled back to a mix of automation and manual work in April.
While Model 3 production was still sputtering in March, a Tesla owner in California died in a crash while using the company's Autopilot driver feature.
Autopilot death increased the pressure on the Model 3 production ramp
Tesla said the driver received several warnings in minutes leading to the accident. He insinuated that he had not been aware – even though it was reported in May that the company had decided to add more advanced driver monitoring features to its cars. Death led to renewed control over the company's efforts to increase vehicle autonomy, and was also immediately followed by the news of Tesla's greatest recall ever for a non-related governance issue.
(The months after that death, Tesla released his first driver safety report. Musk promised that Tesla would regularly hand over these reports, but this one was concise. The promised "full self driving" features of their cars later this year) .]
Shortly after, in April, Tesla produced 2000 model 3s per week. Even at this pace, the company behind Musk's already postponed deadlines. Musk announced that Tesla had to build the electric sedan 24 hours a day to meet its production target for the middle of the year at 5000 per week. Stress showed: During a spring investment call, Muscled analysts to ask "boring, bone head" questions and instead spent 20 minutes answering them from a YouTuber.
Investors seemed to lose confidence, as Tesla's share price fell to its low for the year. The autopilot death was added to the pressure of the Model 3 production ramp, all that the company was "bleeding money like crazy", as Musk admitted to
Axios in November.
In response, Tesla and Musk became more aggressive. Tesla was removed from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Autopilot death investigation from March, although the company said it went down on its own.
Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting also published a disclosure on alleged workplace safety issues at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California in April (and followed a similar story later this year on Tesla's injury reporting practice at the health clinic). Tesla reacted the story by calling Reveal an "extremist organization."
In the summer, Tesla stepped into the slide: The company built a tent in the parking lot outside the Fremont factory, which allowed Tesla to increase the capacity of model 3 without radical restructuring how things worked inside the factory walls. After Musk found what he described as a "Russian nesting doll" structure of entrepreneurs, Tesla let out a few thousand workers and flattened the company's management structure. Tesla also closed a dozen solar installation centers and relied on an agreement to sell its energy storage products at Home Depot, as it focused resources on model 3.
The flight adjustments worked. The company beat its mid-year goal just a few hours after Musk's deadline, and finally began to turn a small profit on Model 3. Tesla also announced plans for its first international Gigafactory, to be opened in China once in 2020. That will give the company a chance to cope with the largest electric car market in the world without having to send cars all over the world, or deal with touching trade relations between the United States and China. In a flip of the spring investor call, Musk sounded relieved while talking to analysts after announcing the company's quarterly results in August.
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge
Then a week later, Tesla's CEO sent the infamous "funding secured" tweet. Musk announced that he wanted to take Tesla back privately – at a stock price of $ 420, not less. Tesla hit its stock market high for the year supporting supporters, hoping to help bring Musk's ambiguous vision to life.
A surrealistic few weeks followed. Musk admitted that he had talked about the plan with Saudi Arabia's state fund, but then relied on the idea and kept the company public. But Musk had just kept floating conversations with the people who were responsible for the fund, and many people inside Tesla – from the company's head of investor relations, to the CFO – had not got any heads up about the announcement. All of this appeared later in a lawsuit filed by the SEC. In fact, the lawsuit even suggested some degree of instability; Musk had been close to settling with the agency and abruptly withdrawn, just to enter into a more criminal decision days later. He was forced to step down as head of Tesla for three years, pay a $ 20 million fine and submit his public communications about the company – including his tweets – to oversight.
This may explain why so many top Tesla executives accused companies, including the head of global finance and company accounting. It wasn't all: SEC, DOJ and FBI opened Tesla surveys. In addition to the "funded secured" survey, feds were also on Tesla's communication about the model 3 figures. The company's holdings have been delayed through the beginning of October, almost matching the low of the spring, as investors responded to the settlement and news of the government's increased focus on Tesla.
Model 3, simultaneously switched "production hell" for "delivery hell." Tesla leaned on loyal fans and customers to help with a synchronization crisis, as thousands of Model 3s went out to eager owners around the country. Problems are also being cropped for these new owners, in terms of delivery delays and remarkable quality issues. Musk admitted that Tesla had committed a "stupid oversight" by leaving large gaps in service coverage across the United States, promising to improve its reach by early 2019.
Despite delays, long hours and over-head of the company's CEO , Tesla team and delivered enough Model 3s to contribute $ 311 million in the third quarter of the year. Musk had promised investors earlier in 2018 that Tesla would reach profitability in the second half of the year, and then this was the first big step. (The fourth quarter result will not be revealed until early 2019.) Even this victory for Tesla came with a qualification, though: $ 190 million of the $ 311 million Tesla earned in the quarter came from the sale of regulatory credits.
Nevertheless, Tesla's stock was in the following weeks, and approached high in mid-December, even though it did dramatically during a late monthly sale in the broader market. Tesla stock will now leave 2018 more or less where it started.
Tesla leaves 2018 in better shape than it came in
However, the Tesla company leaves in 2018 in better shape than it entered. Asking about Autopilot is worthy of question, especially as the US government violates how to legislate advanced driver systems and eventually autonomous cars. The company's workforce treatment is still under constant review, and will require greater attention as Tesla pushes into new regions such as China in 2019.
Tesla must continue to make good its original promise to deliver a version of the car starting at $ 35,000 , which Musk delayed until 2019 to focus on more expensive, higher margin trims. But Model 3 is now an almost fully realized product, and the company has been able to be profitable in the future. It couldn't have happened in an even more important time: Musk told
Axios in late November that Tesla's infection avoided death in a few weeks during the summer. He put the company and won. No matter where the story of Tesla goes next, and what detours Elon Musk has in store, 2018 will probably be remembered for that.
Final grade: B-
Verge 2018 report card: Tesla
Massive ramp up of model 3 production
Turned first profit into two years / biggest quarterly win ever
Announced expansion to China
Need for improvement
Change attention and spend back to facilitate projects
Continued labor problems
Need for more consistent quality and service, as well as transparency about Autopilot's capabilities and security statistics