On Wednesday, Tesla's market valuation surpassed Toyota's, making Tesla the most valuable car company in the world. Then on Thursday, the company announced it had delivered 90,650 cars during the second quarter, handily beating analyst expectations and seeing only a 5 percent reduction from the same quarter last year. Meanwhile, other carmakers saw sales drop by 30 percent because of the pandemic.
Those delivery numbers sent Tesla's stock soaring even higher, to over $1,200--an increase of more than 500 percent over the past year. That propelled Elon Musk's net worth to more than $54 billion. With some experts speculating that electric cars will someday replace gas ones, it seems fitting that Musk is now wealthier than oil billionaire Charles Koch.
Tesla may break even this quarter, based on an email Musk sent Tesla employees this week. That would be an achievement in current economic conditions. If the company manages to pull off a profit, that will help it qualify for inclusion in the S&P 500 index. Inclusion in the index would automatically increase Tesla's share price because a large number of index funds would start buying shares of Tesla. Investors' expectation that this will happen soon is likely behind some of the rise in the company's share price.
Tesla spent the last several years logging unprofitable quarters while Musk fended off questions about its long-term prospects. That might remind you of another iconic entrepreneur--Jeff Bezos--because Amazon also failed to consistently make a profit for years, even as its market penetration grew. During those years, Bezos ignored critics who argued that an unprofitable company is always a bad investment. From today's vantage point, both have proved their case that building for the long term is more important than quarterly or even annual profits. And that you're better off not listening to naysayers if you want to build a great empire.
Making Model 3s in Shanghai.
How did Tesla manage to outperform the rest of the industry by such a wide margin? For one thing, some of the company's long-term investment paid off big-time this past quarter. Tesla recently began selling Model 3 cars from its new gigafactory in Shanghai, allowing it to avoid paying import tax in China. Building the Shanghai factory was always a smart move--China is the world's largest electric car market and the factory allows Tesla to make cars faster than it can at its California plant. But in the summer of 2020, that investment paid off for additional reasons. China has brought its Covid-19 infection rate under control while the United States is still struggling to do so. Tesla was thus able to replace its lost U.S. car sales with new car sales in China. The new factory also allowed Tesla to continue building cars while its California factory was shut down because of the pandemic. The company began delivery of its Model Y SUV, further boosting sales, and reduced the price on some of its older models.
Like Bezos, Musk has always been good at seeing the future and creating it at the same time. Bezos foresaw, but also helped drive, the growth of online shopping years ago, just as Musk foresaw, and also helped drive, the growth of the electric vehicle market in recent years. It's a rare entrepreneur who can spot trends before they happen and then build a company influential enough to push those trends along.
Of course, Musk would probably be deeply insulted at being compared to Bezos. At least you'd think so, based on Musk's Twitter feed, which has mocked and criticized Bezos many times over the years. Musk sounds off whenever one of Bezos's companies steps into what Musk considers his own turf. That happened with spaceships--Bezos owns SpaceX competitor Blue Origin--and more recently with self-driving technology, when Amazon acquired Zoox.
This, of course, points to one of the biggest differences between the two. Bezos, suave and sophisticated, rarely seems to lose his cool, and his statements on social media always appear to be carefully considered before he posts them. Musk, on the other hand, seems to tweet by stream of consciousness. That can get him in trouble, as when he (falsely) tweeted that he had funding secured to take Tesla private, leading to discipline by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Or when, for some unknown reason, he tweeted that Tesla's share price was too high and prompted an immediate selloff.
If Bezos is a deep thinker who makes plans and then executes them while keeping his own counsel, Musk seems to be a deep thinker who makes plans and then executes them while constantly blurting out whatever is on his mind. Then again, that's why we love him.