- From sending 1 million people to Mars by 2050 to rolling out 1 million self-driving taxis, Elon Musk is no stranger to bold predictions.
- Tesla had an extraordinary 2020 — it delivered nearly half a million cars, launched the Model Y, and made progress on two new factories.
- But Musk failed to deliver on promises including launching the “full self-driving” feature and starting to build the Tesla Roadster.
- “Punctuality is not my strong suit, but I always come through in the end,” Musk said in 2020.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s outspoken and oft-tweeting CEO, doesn’t shy away from bold predictions.
While many corporate executives would rather temper expectations and stick to the script — also known as underpromise and overdeliver — Musk sometimes seems to take the opposite approach. The eccentric billionaire never backs down from an opportunity to hype up whatever Tesla and his other companies have coming down the pike.
And although Musk’s predictions sometimes come to bear, they’re often way off. The Model X, Tesla’s third production vehicle, hit the market two years behind schedule, and we’re still waiting for the Tesla Semi, which was unveiled nearly four years ago.
That issue, though, may not be much of an issue at all. Despite Tesla’s sometimes overly-aggressive goals and missed timelines, investors remain confident. Shares in the company have surged more than 13,000% since it went public in 2010 and well over 700% in 2020 alone — easily outpacing the broader market — making Tesla the most valuable automaker and Musk the richest person on the planet.
Musk promised Tesla would do a lot in 2020 — here are some of the things that panned out, and some that didn’t.
Fleet of 1 million robotaxis
“Next year, for sure, we’ll have over 1 million robotaxis on the road,” Musk said during Tesla’s “Autonomy Day” presentation in April 2019. To date, Tesla hasn’t launched one driverless taxi, let alone 1 million.
Musk has described the future ride-sharing network as something of a cross between Uber and Airbnb, where Tesla owners can set their cars to roam the streets picking up passengers while they sit at home or at work, earning them passive income. The automaker would also deploy its own cars to areas that don’t have enough customers participating.
Intriguing as the idea may be, it has evidently been tough to roll out. Part of the issue is that Teslas need to have an extremely high level of autonomy to function as driverless taxis — and that’s something neither Tesla nor any other automaker currently offers.
Musk later softened his tone with respect to the robotaxis in April 2020, one year after he first announced the plan, shifting his target date to 2021.
“Punctuality is not my strong suit, but I always come through in the end,” Musk said on a conference call in April 2020. “So I think we could see robotaxis in operation with the network fleet next year, not in all markets but in some.”
Release “full self-driving” capability
Tesla has been beating the drum that its self-driving cars would be coming “soon” for years now. And while there’s no denying that Tesla’s Autopilot and “full self-driving” features are among the most advanced driver-assistance systems available, they still require full driver attention, despite their clever branding.
In 2020, Tesla launched a limited beta of its “full self-driving” feature — a $10,000 option — and its CEO said that the system would see a wide release by the end of that year. But early videos posted online showed that the system was not yet ready for primetime.
With that deadline looming, Musk announced that Tesla would release “full self-driving” as a subscription in early 2021.
Still, he doesn’t have a stellar track record when it comes to predicting his company’s autonomous-driving capabilities.
In 2017, Musk said a Tesla would be able to drive itself from New York to Los Angeles without intervention by the end of that year, and that Teslas would allow drivers to fall asleep and wake up at their destination by 2019. Neither of those things have happened yet.
Deliver 500,000 cars
Tesla said at the beginning of 2020 that deliveries would “comfortably exceed 500,000 units” in the coming year, and the automaker just barely missed that goal, coming up short by 450 units. It also smashed its previous quarterly sales record by more than 40,000 by delivering 180,570 vehicles in Q4.
It’s remarkable that Tesla nearly reached its sales targets and beat many of Wall Street’s expectations during a pandemic that ground auto manufacturing to a halt and dealt a hefty blow to consumer spending. But it’s less impressive given that Tesla has set and missed aggressive delivery goals in the past, JPMorgan analysts said in a January 4 note.
In 2016, Musk said Tesla would deliver 500,000 vehicles by 2018 — it ended up delivering only 246,000. He also said that Tesla would sell up to to 650,000 cars in 2019 and 1 million by 2020, the analysts wrote.
Launch Model Y
Tesla launched its fifth production vehicle — the Model Y crossover — last March, one year after its debut in spring 2019. The vehicle completed the “S3XY” acronym and arrived months ahead of schedule, which is unusual for the EV maker. The Model X was delayed for two years before it launched in late 2015.
Tesla doesn’t break down its sales numbers by product, but the Model Y is expected to boost the automaker’s sales as demand for compact crossovers explodes in the US.
In 2020, Tesla delivered 442,511 Model 3s and Model Ys, compared to 57,039 Model Xs and Model S sedans.
Begin limited production of Semi
Production of the Tesla Semi has been on the company’s back burner for years.
When the battery-powered class 8 truck was unveiled in 2017, Tesla said it was eyeing 2019 for the first deliveries. When the company reported its third quarter 2019 earnings, it said it was “planning to produce limited volumes of Tesla Semi in 2020.”
But in April 2020, Tesla said it was delaying production and deliveries of the commercial vehicle again, this time until 2021.
Deliver Tesla Roadster
Tesla wowed its legions of fans and the auto industry at large in 2017 when it announced a new Roadster would arrive by 2020. The sports car promised to hit a top speed of 250 mph, go 620 miles on a charge, seat four, and sprint to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds — all starting at $200,000, a bargain compared to the gas-powered supercars of the world.
But last May, as the COVID-19 pandemic dashed automakers’ plans for lots of things, Musk said that the Roadster would have to wait until after the Cybertruck hits the market, which should be in late 2021.
Unveil a million-mile battery
In April 2019, Musk said Tesla batteries would soon be able to power its cars for 1 million miles or more — which would be remarkable given that gas-powered cars tend to live for 200,000 miles, give or take. He said the new batteries would go into production by 2020.
Musk was expected to formally announce the million-mile battery at Tesla’s “Battery Day” event in September, but he didn’t.
However, Tesla did announce a new battery architecture at the event that would result in five times more energy, a 16% range increase, and six times the power output. Tesla said the new “4680” cells will be faster and cheaper to produce, and that the new packs can add stiffness to the middle of a vehicle.
The cells won’t reach full-scale production until 2022.