Tesla posts record profits as its deliveries soared in 2021

A Tesla building
Tesla said 2021 was a breakthrough year for the company.
(David Butow / For The Times)

Tesla Inc. on Wednesday posted record fourth-quarter and full-year earnings as deliveries of its electric vehicles soared despite a global shortage of computer chips that has slowed the entire auto industry.

The Austin, Texas, company made $5.5 billion last year compared with the previous record of $3.47 billion in net income posted in 2020. It was the third straight profitable year for the maker of electric vehicles and solar panels.

In a letter to shareholders, Tesla said 2021 was a breakthrough year for the company. “There should no longer be doubt about the viability and profitability of electric vehicles,” the letter said.

Tesla made $2.32 billion in the fourth quarter. Excluding special items such as stock-based compensation, the company made $2.54 a share. That beat Wall Street expectations of $2.36 a share. Revenue for the quarter was $17.72 billion, also ahead of analysts’ estimates of $17.13 billion, according to FactSet.


Of the revenue number, $314 million came from selling regulatory credits to other automakers to meet government pollution standards. That number has been a smaller percentage of revenue for multiple quarters.

Tesla delivered a record 936,000 vehicles last year, nearly double the 2020 figure. Fourth-quarter vehicle sales hit 308,600, also a record. Tesla said it expects 50% annual growth in vehicle deliveries “over a multiyear horizon.”

The company said its factories have been running below their capacity for several quarters, limited mainly by supply chain constraints that are likely to continue through this year.

It also said Chief Executive Elon Musk was awarded $245 million in the fourth quarter because he reached some operational milestones in his compensation package.

Tesla said it started building Model Y SUVs late last year at its new factory near Austin. After final certification, it plans to start delivering them to customers. The company said it’s testing equipment at its new factory in Germany and is still trying to get a manufacturing permit from local authorities. It still lists the Cybertruck electric pickup as “in development.” It was supposed to go on the market last year.

“Officially cutting the red ribbon on Austin and Berlin over the coming months will be key as more supply comes online for Tesla with demand currently outstripping supply,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors.

The company said it was able to drive cost reductions in the final quarter of the year, as well as grow vehicle sales. But it faced rising raw-material, commodity and logistics costs as well as increased warranty and recall expenses.

It said that “Full Self-Driving” software is now being tested on public roads by owners in nearly 60,000 vehicles in the U.S. The system was in about 2,000 in the third quarter, Tesla said. The software, which costs $12,000 and cannot yet drive on its own, is a primary area of focus for the company and should accelerate Tesla’s profitability, the company said.

While regulators investigate a spate of Teslas steering themselves into parked vehicles, Tesla owners have been reporting faulty collision-avoidance systems.

Tesla’s shares closed Wednesday up 2% at $937.41. In extended trading, the stock initially tumbled after the earnings were announced but recovered to a small decline.

Ives said the stock was down because of the company’s caution about supply chain weakness through this year.

“This is prudent caution,” he said. “The Street is hyper-sensitive to any supply chain worries.”