Tesla Has First Profitable Year, but Competition Is Growing

The company benefited from a jump in sales of electric cars in China and Europe, but its fourth quarter earnings fell short of Wall Street’s expectations.

By Neal E. Boudette

Tesla on Wednesday reported its first full-year profit, a feat 18 years in the making.

The electric carmaker, which was founded in 2003, said it earned $721 million in 2020, in contrast to a loss of $862 million in 2019, even though the pandemic was a drag on sales and production in the United States. The company made $270 million in the last three months of the year, up from $105 million in the same period of 2019.

But the fourth-quarter earnings were below analysts’ expectations, and Tesla’s stock was down about 5 percent in extended trading on Wednesday.

Tesla’s shift toward profitability is an important turning point for the company and for an auto industry that has seen few successful new entrants in recent decades. The company’s success was made possible in large part by rising sales in China and Europe, and the addition of a fourth car, the Model Y, that appears to have become its top seller in the United States.

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