Editor's note: Inc. magazine will announce its pick for Company of the Year on Monday, December 11. Here, we spotlight a contender for the title in 2017.
Just about every time Tesla looks like it's peaked, it goes and outdoes itself. Last year it was the unveiling of solar roofs and the acquisition of SolarCity. This year, Elon Musk's company kicked things into even higher gear.
For starters, the company eclipsed Ford and, momentarily, GM in market value when its stock surged above $313.00 a share in April. By June, its stock had reached $386.99--a 75 percent increase since the end of 2016. That's a market capitalization of more than $60 billion despite Tesla's having shipped just 76,000 cars in 2016, or about a 10th as many as each of its incumbent rivals.
But Tesla's allure, to Musk fans and company shareholders alike, has always been in what it has promised. 2017 is the year it started delivering on those promises. The $35,000 Model 3, the so-called electric car for the masses, began rolling off the assembly line in late July. While manufacturing of Tesla's most affordable model yet has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, behind schedule, Tesla is still ramping up its capacity and has said it expects to deliver all 400,000 preorders by the middle of next year.
By that time, Tesla should also have introduced all four of its initial styles of solar roofs. When the company acquired SolarCity late last year, and then changed its name from Tesla Motors to just Tesla, it became clear that Musk's firm was becoming a full-blown energy company. Musk's "Master Plan," after all--first outlined in 2006--called for exactly this. "The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company)," he wrote in 2006, "is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution."
Now, Tesla stands poised to do just that: help lessen the world's reliance on fossil fuels and turn its focus toward renewable energy. Because if a solar roof looks and costs the same as a regular roof, but can harvest the sun's energy and use it to power a home, why would anyone ever buy a regular roof again? And if a car costs the same as a slightly higher-end sedan, but can run by battery and go 215 miles on a single charge, why wouldn't it became one of the most desired vehicles on the market? Those are the philosophies that are propelling Musk and his vision forward--and giving the company's stockholders reason for excitement.
But Tesla's progress isn't without consequences. A May report by the Guardian detailed the tough work conditions at the company's Fremont, California, factory, revealing that hundreds of ambulances have been called over the past several years for injuries, fainting, and dizzy spells.
And even with the aggressive mushing of its employees, Tesla has struggled to hit its goals. After Musk tweeted that the company expected to manufacture 1,500 Model 3's in September, it ended up making just 260 in the third quarter.
"Elon's never made a number, ever," Ross Gerber, CEO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth & Investment Management, which holds Tesla shares, told Bloomberg in October. "Coming up short is what we expect of him."
Still, Musk's inability to hit short-term targets has, to this point, been largely overshadowed by his ability to produce breakthrough innovations. "This guy has figured out how to land a rocket on a ship," Gerber said, referring to SpaceX's reusable rockets. "Whatever it is, he'll get it sorted out."
So even while Tesla falls behind, Musk and the company have earned themselves some leeway. After all, a few missed goals are a small price to pay for bringing renewable energy into the mainstream--and the huge profits that could follow.