Tesla had a tumultuous 2018, full of both major accomplishments and challenges that threatened the automaker's existence.
Elon Musk, Tesla's mercurial CEO, attracted attention for his erratic behaviour, which led to lawsuits from investors and investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Tesla heads into 2019 with cause for optimism and concern as it seeks to maintain stability in its finances and vehicle production, while preparing to build a new factory and expand its product lineup.
Tesla had a tumultuous 2018, full of both major accomplishments and challenges that threatened the automaker's existence. A gruelling production ramp for the Model 3 sedan led to production records during the second and third quarters, debt and cash flow concerns preceded a surprise profit, and a glowing safety rating for the Model 3 was tempered by quality and delivery issues.
Elon Musk, Tesla's mercurial CEO, attracted attention for his erratic behaviour, which led to lawsuits from investors and investigations from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). While Musk's ambition and candor on social media have endeared him to his fans, seemingly impulsive decisions this year showed the downside of his unconventional approach to being a CEO.
Tesla heads into 2019 with cause for optimism and concern as it seeks to maintain stability in its finances and vehicle production, while also preparing to build a new factory and expand its product lineup.
These are the highlights of Tesla's eventful year.
Have a Tesla news tip? Contact this reporter at email@example.com.
Elon Musk sends a Tesla Roadster to Mars
SpaceX, Musk's rocket company, launched in February its largest rocket, Falcon Heavy, into space with a 2008 Tesla Roadster as its payload.
The launch was designed to show that the company could transport cargo for future clients and eventually carry people and supplies to colonize Mars.
"Test flights of new rockets usually contain mass simulators in the form of concrete or steel blocks. That seemed extremely boring," Musk wrote in an Instagram post in December 2017. "Of course, anything boring is terrible, especially companies, so we decided to send something unusual, something that made us feel."
Amazon account hacked to mine cryptocurrency
In February, Tesla's Amazon Web Services account was hacked to mine cryptocurrency. The hack, which was brought to Tesla's attention by the cybersecurity startup RedLock, also reportedly exposed some of Tesla's proprietary data related to mapping, telemetry, and vehicle servicing.
According to Fortune, Tesla paid RedLock over $US3,000 as part of its bug bounty program, which rewards people who find vulnerabilities in the company's products or services that could be exploited by hackers.
"The impact seems to be limited to internally-used engineering test cars only, and our initial investigation found no indication that customer privacy or vehicle safety or security was compromised in any way," a Tesla representative told Business Insider.
A Model S recall
In March, Tesla issued the largest recall in its history. The recall involved power-steering systems in 123,000 Model S sedans. Tesla said five bolts responsible for holding the power-steering motor in place could corrode, break, or come loose, which could result in the loss of power steering.
But the company also said the problem was rare and most likely to happen in colder areas that use a specific kind of salt to lessen the amount of ice and snow on the road. According to Tesla, the problem was only relevant to Model S vehicles built before April 2016 and had affected just 0.02% of Model S vehicles at the time the recall was announced.
A fatal Model X crash
In March, a Model X crashed into a highway barrier in Mountain View, California. The driver, Walter Huang, died after being taken to the hospital.
Autopilot, Tesla's semi-autonomous system, was engaged during the accident, and Huang's wife said he had complained about the system not working properly near the area where the crash occurred.
Tesla released a statement blaming Huang for the accident. The company said "the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so."
Huang's family said they planned to sue Tesla.
While Tesla pointed to statistics that indicate fatal accidents are 3.7 times less likely to happen in Tesla vehicles that have Autopilot than in other vehicles, the crash highlights the difficulties automakers face as the industry slowly shifts toward autonomous vehicles.
A fight with the US NTSB
Four days after the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board announced an investigation. Tesla helped the agency retrieve and interpret data from the vehicle's logs, but the company clashed with the agency over Tesla's decision to reveal information about the crash on its blog.
It can take 12-24 months for the NTSB to release a report about an investigation, and the agency doesn't like outside parties to release information that hasn't been approved by the agency.
As a result, Tesla is no longer a party to the agency's investigation, though it will continue to assist the agency.Each side disagreed over who ended Tesla's party status. The NTSB said it revoked it, while Tesla said it voluntarily chose to remove itself from the party agreement.
Elon Musk gets a new compensation package
In March, Tesla shareholders approved a 10-year compensation package for Musk that pays him in stock options that vest if Tesla hits performance targets.
Musk could make up to $US55.8 billion if Tesla's market capitalisation reaches $US650 billion.
In March, the rating agency Moody's downgraded Tesla's credit rating from B2 to B3 because of concerns about the company's ability to hit its production targets for the Model 3. The move hurt Tesla's stock price and drew attention to the frequency with which the company had spent and raised money.
Musk's controversial April Fools' tweets
Musk poked fun at questions about Tesla's financial health in an April Fools' Day Twitter thread written in the style of a newspaper story.
"Tesla Goes Bankrupt Palo Alto, California, April 1, 2018 -- Despite intense efforts to raise money, including a last-ditch mass sale of Easter Eggs, we are sad to report that Tesla has gone completely and totally bankrupt. So bankrupt, you can't believe it," Musk wrote.
Musk ended the thread with a photo himself pretending to be passed out against a Tesla vehicle covered by a cardboard sign reading "Bankwupt!"
"Elon was found passed out against a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by 'Teslaquilla' bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks. This is not a forward-looking statement, because, obviously, what's the point? Happy New Month!" he wrote.
Musk's response didn't please investors and analysts, who were concerned about Musk's attitude toward criticism directed at Tesla.
Musk fires back at reporter who hints at management shakeup
In April, The Information released a report that claimed there was turmoil at the upper levels of Tesla's management team. The report said Musk had pushed aside engineering vice-president Doug Fields to assume control of the Model 3 production process.
Musk criticised the story on Twitter in a response to its author, Amir Efrati.
"Can't believe you're even writing about this," Musk wrote. "My job as CEO is to focus on what's most critical, which is currently Model 3 production. Doug, who I regard as one of the world's most talented engineering execs, is focused on vehicle engineering."
The post set off a heated exchange between the two.
"How about we set up an interview and you can tell me, among other things, what you think is worth writing about," Efrati replied.
"Uhh, hello, I need to build cars," Musk said.
Tesla misses Model 3 production target
Tesla made 9,766 Model 3 vehicles in the first quarter, which marked a significant improvement over the fourth quarter of 2017. But the company didn't hit its goal of producing 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of the first quarter, reaching only 2,020 in its final week.
Musk admits Model 3 production mistakes
In April, Musk gave CBS This Morning host Gayle King a tour of the Fremont, California, factory where Tesla makes its cars. During an interview, Musk agreed when King mentioned the criticism that there are too many robots involved in the Model 3's production.
He also agreed when King suggested that the factory could use more human workers and that automation had slowed the Model 3 production process and referred to a "crazy, complex network of conveyor belts" Tesla had used until it became clear it wasn't working.
Musk later took responsibility for the amount of automation at the factory on Twitter.
"Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated," he wrote in response to a Wall Street Journal reporter.
Workplace conditions called into question
Specifically, the report says Tesla failed to report injuries employees incurred while at work or mislabeled them, avoided some safety markings for aesthetic reasons, and insufficiently trained some employees for dangerous work. It added that the California occupational-safety agency had logged over 40 violations from Tesla since 2013.
In a blog post, Tesla denied the allegations in the report, calling it "a completely false picture of Tesla and what it is actually like to work here" and "an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organisation working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla."
A follow-up report in November about the medical clinic at the Fremont factory said Tesla failed to give some injured employees proper medical care.
"The goal of the clinic was to keep as many patients off of the books as possible," Anna Watson, a former physician assistant for Tesla's Fremont medical clinic, told Reveal.
Tesla declined a request for comment on the article's allegations.
Tesla posts a loss in Q1 but beats analyst expectations
Tesla reported an adjusted loss per share of $US3.35 billion on revenue of $US3.41 billion during the first quarter. Analysts had predicted an adjusted loss of $US3.42 per share on revenues of $US3.32 billion, according to Bloomberg.
The automaker spent $US1.05 billion in cash during the quarter and ended the quarter with $US2.67 billion in cash, down from $US3.37 billion at the end of 2017.
Musk spars with Wall Street analysts
Musk rejected questions from two Wall Street analysts during the company's unusual first-quarter earnings call on May 2.
"Excuse me. Next. Boring bonehead questions are not cool," Musk said after Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Antonio Sacconaghi asked about Tesla's future capital requirements.
The next question came from RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak, who asked about Model 3 reservations.
"These questions are so dry. They're killing me," Musk said, before turning to Galileo Russell, a retail investor who runs a YouTube channel about Tesla. Russell was allowed to ask several questions about a range of subjects, none of which concerned Tesla's financial health.
Tesla's stock dropped 8% in after-hours trading after the call.
Musk later explained why he rejected the questions on Twitter, but said he should have answered them.
"Once they were on the call, I should have answered their questions live. It was foolish of me to ignore them," he wrote.
He apologised for his remarks during Tesla's third-quarter earnings call.
A fatal Model S crash
The driver of a TeslaModel S and one of his passengers died after the vehicle was involved in a single-car crash in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on May 8.
The vehicle caught fire after it crashed into a concrete wall. The vehicle's speed is believed to be a factor in the accident.
The driver, Barrett Riley, and front-seat passenger, Edgar Martinez, were both 18-years-old. The backseat passenger, 18-year-old Alexander Berry, was thrown out of the vehicle after the crash and taken to a nearby hospital. Berry survived the incident, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on May 9 that it would investigate the crash. The agency said in a press release that the investigation would focus on the emergency response related to the battery fire that followed the crash, "including fire department activities and towing operations." The agency said it does not expect Autopilot to be a part of the investigation.
Two more Autopilot crashes
On May 11, a Model S crashed into a fire department vehicle in Utah while Autopilot was engaged. The driver told police she had been looking at her phone at the time of the collision, which left her with a broken ankle.
According to a report Tesla provided to the South Jordan Police Department, the driver took her hands off the wheel over 12 times during the trip, including for the 80 seconds before the collision.
In May, a Model S crashed into a police vehicle in California while Autopilot was engaged. The police department vehicle was empty at the time of the collision, while the driver of the Model S sustained minor injuries, according to local authorities.
Musk lashes out at the media
Musk has used Twitter to criticise the media's coverage of Tesla.
He began with a series of posts on May 23, in which he described the media as being hypocritical, impulsive, sensitive, unreliable, and ethically compromised. Musk wrote that he would create a website, named Pravda, which would rate the credibility of journalists and their editors.
"Historically, we have been able to generate significant media coverage of our company and our vehicles, and we believe we will continue to do so," the company wrote. "To date, for vehicle sales, media coverage and word of mouth have been the primary drivers of our sales leads and have helped us achieve sales without traditional advertising and at relatively low marketing costs."
Tesla has included those sentences or a variation on them in each of its annual SEC filings dating back to its 2010 initial public offering.
The Model 3 gets Consumer Reports' recommendation after a software update
In May, Consumer Reports published its review of the Model 3 and did not recommend the vehicle, criticising its stopping distance, touchscreen, ride quality, rear seat, and the amount of wind noise it produced while driving at highway speeds. The publication also complemented its range, handling, and acceleration.
The publication wrote that the distance the vehicle needed to go from 60 mph to a complete stop, 152 feet, was "far worse than any contemporary car we've tested."
Musk said he was surprised by Consumer Reports' account of Model 3 braking issues and said Tesla would roll out a software update to improve the vehicle's braking system. After the update, Consumer Reports gave the Model 3 its "Recommended Buy" rating. The publication said the update reduced the distance the vehicle needed to go from 60 mph to a complete stop by 19 feet.
Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports' director of auto testing, said in the updated review that he had never seen a wireless update result in an improved track performance for a car in his 19 years with the publication.
Autopilot marketing methods criticised
On May 23, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Auto Safety sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate the strategies Tesla has used to sell Autopilot. The letter says the company has led customers to overestimate Autopilot's safety and the amount of driving it can control.
"Two Americans are dead and one is injured as a result of Tesla deceiving and misleading consumers into believing that the Autopilot feature of its vehicles is safer and more capable than it actually is," the letter reads.
The letter criticised the language Tesla uses on its website, videos the company has produced, press releases it has published, and comments made by Musk.
Tesla lays off around 9% of its employees
Tesla laid off around 9% of its employees in June. In an email to employees, Musk said the layoffs would primarily affect salaried employees, sparing production-line workers as the company ramped up Model 3 production. He said Tesla had developed redundancies in some job functions that were no longer necessary.
"Difficult, but necessary Tesla reorg underway," Musk said in a tweet accompanying images of the email.
Some former employees told Business Insider they were surprised by the layoffs.
A Model S catches fire in the middle of the street
A Model S suddenly caught fire in June in Los Angeles. The fire drew attention after the actress Mary McCormack - whose husband, British director Michael Morris, was driving the vehicle -shared a video of it on Twitter. In the video, fire can be seen beneath the vehicle's front left tire.
In a preliminary report on its investigation into the incident, the NTSB said the incident didn't cause any injuries, but did not offer any reasons why the vehicle may have caught fire.
Fires at Fremont
A cardboard baler - which compresses cardboard to make it easier to store and recycle - caught fire outside Fremont factory in June. The Fremont Fire Department said on Twitter that the fire did not spread beyond the machine, but the machine and the tent it was housed in were damaged. There were no injuries, the department said. A Tesla representative said the fire did not affect vehicle production.
In August, an unidentified building at Fremont caught fire. The Fremont Fire Department said the fire started in a "cardboard pile," and Tesla said the fire affected a small patch of grass near a company parking lot.
Former Tesla employees file whistleblowing tips with the SEC
Two former Tesla employees have filed whistleblowing tips with the SEC this year. The first, Martin Tripp, told Business Insider that Tesla used batteries with puncture holes in vehicles meant for consumers, among other claims, and, in his tip with the SEC claims the company overreported production of its Model 3 sedan by up to 44%, according to The Washington Post.
In June, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Tripp, alleging that he hacked confidential company information and gave it to parties outside the company. Tripp filed a countersuit in August denying Tesla's allegations and accusing the company of defamation. Tripp later published on Twitter photos that he claimed supported the allegations he has made.
Another former employee, Karl Hansen, alleged that Tesla did not disclose to shareholders the theft of raw materials and engaged in unauthorised surveillance and hacking of employee devices. Hansen also alleged that Tesla did not tell federal authorities about information it received from him about alleged drug trafficking at the Gigafactory.
Model 3 reservations are opened to all customers
In June, Tesla opened Model 3 orders to all reservation-holders. Previously, reservation-holders had to wait for an invitation to configure and order their vehicle.
At the time, Tesla had received over 450,000 pre-orders for the Model 3 since it started taking reservations in March 2016.
A new assembly line in a "tent"
During the summer, Tesla built a new assembly line at the Fremont factory housed in an open-air structure that Musk referred to on Twitter as "a giant tent." Musk said the assembly line was built in three weeks with "minimal resources" and said he preferred the open-air structure to the nearby factory building.
"It's actually way better than the factory building. More comfortable & a great view of the mountains," he said.
Tesla makes 5,000 Model 3s in one week for the first time
At the end of June, Tesla hit its goal of making 5,000 Model 3s in one week, a rate of production Musk originally hoped to achieve by the end of 2017. Tesla produced more vehicles during the second quarter of this year than in any previous quarter in the company's history and made more Model 3 sedans than in the previous three quarters combined.
Tesla's losses decrease in Q2 but are worse than analyst projections
Tesla reported an adjusted loss per share of $US3.06 billion on revenue of $US4 billion during the second quarter. Analysts had projected a loss of $US2.90 per share and $US3.97 billion in revenue.
The automaker reported a negative free cash flow of $US739 million, lower than analysts expected.
Trouble ramping up solar roof production
Reuters reported in August that only 12 Tesla solar roofs - which consist of solar panels made to look like roof tiles - were connected to the grid in California as of May 31. Tesla began taking reservations for the solar roof in May 2017 and said installations would begin that summer, but the first installations for customers who weren't Tesla employees didn't begin until April 2018.
Reuters said Tesla has faced delays in its efforts to ramp up production of its solar roof tiles due to assembly-line issues at its Buffalo, New York, factory and the challenges involved in meeting Musk's aesthetic expectations.
At the time, Tesla declined to comment on the number of solar roofs it has installed. A Tesla representative said the company was ramping up solar roof production and would increase the rate of production near the end of this year.
The SEC investigates Musk's statements about taking Tesla private
Musk shocked observers when he said on August 7 that he was thinking about taking Tesla private and had secured the funding to do so. Musk's statements attracted controversy and raised questions about the certainty of the funding he referenced and where exactly that funding would come from. Fox Business and The New York Times reported that the SEC had sent subpoenas to Tesla concerning Tesla's plans to explore going private and Musk's statements about the process.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the agency had been investigating how the company communicated production issues it faced with its Model 3 sedan before Musk's tweets about going private.
On August 24, Musk said Tesla would remain a public company.
Azealia Banks says Musk was "scrounging for investors" to take Tesla private
Azealia Banks told Business Insider that Musk seemed concerned about getting financing for a potential go-private deal while she was at one of his homes in Los Angeles the weekend after he tweeted he had secured the funding to take Tesla private.
"I saw him in the kitchen tucking his tail in between his legs scrounging for investors to cover his arse after that tweet," she said. "He was stressed and red in the face."
Tesla declined a request for comment on Banks' claims regarding Musk's efforts to find investors and a representative for Musk said he had never met or communicated with Banks, but did not deny that Banks had stayed at one of his homes during the time period Banks specified.
Later, Musk told The New York Times that he briefly saw Banks during her weekend at his home.
"I saw her on Friday morning, for two seconds at about a 30-foot distance as she was leaving the house," Musk said. "I'd just finished working out. She was not within hearing range. I didn't even realise who it was. That's literally the only time I've ever laid eyes on her."
Tesla hit with lawsuits from shareholders
Tesla has been hit with multiple lawsuits from shareholders accusing Musk of misleading investors and manipulating the company's stock price with his statements about taking the company private.
Tesla board members reportedly say they're worried about Musk's Ambien use
Musk told The New York Times in a story published in August that he had used Ambien at times to help him sleep.
"It is often a choice of no sleep or Ambien," Musk said.
The Times reported that some members of Tesla's board of directors were concerned about Musk's use of Ambien. The board members reportedly said that on some occasions the drug has helped lead Musk to use Twitter late at night instead of putting him to sleep.
Some suppliers are reportedly worried about Tesla going bankrupt
The Wall Street Journal reported in August that eight of 22 auto industry suppliers surveyed by the Original Equipment Suppliers Association said they were concerned about the possibility of Tesla filing for bankruptcy. According to The Journal, 18 of 22 respondents said they considered Tesla a financial risk to their companies.
"We are definitely not going bankrupt," Musk told The Journal.
Model 3 quality issues
Business Insider reported in August that a much higher percentage of Model 3s produced at the end of June required rework than a car at another auto plant might have.
According to internal documents reviewed by Business Insider, around 14% of the Model 3s produced during the final week of June didn't require rework. Ron Harbour, a consultant at Oliver Wyman who writes a report on manufacturing, said about 65%-80% of the vehicles produced at the average auto plant don't require rework.
A Tesla representative told Business Insider that rework can include small issues and that most of its cars do not have significant problems when they get to the end of the production line.
Musk smokes weed during live interview after saying its bad for productivity
In a September interview with Joe Rogan, Musk was filmed smoking marijuana. (Recreational use of Marijuana is legal in California, where the interview was filmed.)
"Weed is not helpful for productivity. There's a reason for the word 'stoned.' You just sit there like a stone on weed," Musk said.
California regulators investigate Tesla's workplace conditions
California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) opened three new inspections into the Fremont factory in September.
The first was opened on September 4 and was prompted by an incident reported to the agency in which a contract worker became stuck between two garbage bins after a forklift pushed one of the bins. The second was opened on September 5 and came after an incident reported to the agency in which a contract worker's fingers were caught in a torque gun. And the third was opened September 18 following a report made to the agency September 14 of an accident, which occurred on September 14, in which a Tesla employee had part of a finger amputated while moving a rack of windshields onto a conveyor.
Inspections do not necessarily lead to financial penalties or findings of wrongdoing.
"Tesla takes safety extremely seriously and is constantly identifying safety improvements across our global operations to help us become one of the safest places to work," a Tesla spokesperson said.
Musk says Tesla is in 'delivery hell'
Musk said in September that Tesla's most pressing issues had moved from producing vehicles to delivering them, though he said delivery issues were easier to fix and would be solved soon.
Musk had previously said that some Tesla customers would have to wait longer to get a response from customer service due to a significant increase in vehicle deliveries.
Musk sued by the British diver he called a "pedo"
In July, Musk called British diver Vernon Unsworth, who was involved in the Thai cave rescue, a pedophile in a tweet and said he would bet money to back his accusation after Unsworth said the miniature submarine Musk designed and sent to Thailand to help with the rescue would have been ineffective and was merely a publicity stunt. Musk later apologised to Unsworth and deleted the tweet.
But Musk suggested in August that it was unusual Unsworth hadn't sued him yet and asked a Twitter user who brought up the matter why he hadn't investigated it. Unsworth filed a defamation lawsuit against Musk on September 17 in which he alleges that his reputation was damaged as a result of "false and defamatory" tweets and emails written by Musk that said Unsworth is a pedophile who married a 12-year-old girl in Thailand without presenting reliable evidence to back those claims. The lawsuit denies that Unsworth is a pedophile or has a child bride and seeks damages of over $US75,000.
"Elon Musk falsely accused Vern Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes," Unsworth's lawyer, L. Lin Wood, said in a statement to Business Insider. "Musk's influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law."
Representatives for Musk did not respond to requests for comment.
The Model 3 gets a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA
The Model 3 received a five-star rating in the frontal crash, side crash, and rollover categories, and some of its driver assistance features - like forward collision warning, lane departure warning, crash imminent braking, and dynamic brake support - met the agency's performance tests.
The DOJ asks for documents after Elon Musk's 'funding secured' tweet
Tesla said in September that it had received and cooperated with a voluntary request for documents from the DOJ but had not received a subpoena.
The automaker's statement followed a report from Bloomberg, citing two people familiar with the matter, that the company is facing a criminal investigation by the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California into public comments the company and its CEO, Elon Musk, made about taking the company private. (The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.)
The SEC sues Musk... and then settles with the SEC
The SEC filed a lawsuit against Musk in September, alleging that Musk made "false and misleading statements" in August about the possibility of taking the automaker private. The agency said in the lawsuit that it seeks to bar Musk from being an officer or director of a public company.
In the lawsuit, the SEC claims Musk said a representative from Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund had shown interest in taking Tesla private, but that Musk had never discussed any of the specific terms he described on Twitter with the Saudi fund or any other potential backers before making them public. Those terms included the proposed $US420 share price and an option for all existing Tesla shareholders to remain with the company after it went private.
Musk said he was "deeply saddened and disappointed" by the lawsuit, which he called "unjustified," in a company statement to Business Insider.
The SEC reached a settlement with Musk at the end of September. Under the terms of the settlement, Musk didn't admit or deny the allegations in the agency's lawsuit against him, but had to step down as the chairman of Tesla's board of directors for three years and pay a $US20 million fine. Tesla also received a $US20 million fine, despite not receiving fraud charges.
Musk takes aim at the SEC
Musk seemed to take aim at the SEC in an October tweet, calling it the "Shortseller Enrichment Commission."
"Just want to that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work," he said. "And the name change is so on point!"
And during an interview with "60 Minutes" that aired in December, Musk said he did not respect the SEC.
"I want to be clear: I do not respect the SEC, I do not respect them," Musk said when asked about the SEC's lawsuit against him.
A new record for quarterly production
In October, Tesla said it produced 80,142 vehicles during the third quarter, which is the highest quarterly production rate in the automaker's history and 50% higher than its previous high, achieved in the second quarter of this year.
The Model 3 becomes one of the top-20 best-selling vehicles in the US
Tesla says it delivered 56,065 Model 3s during the third quarter, which made it one of the best-selling cars in the US during the quarter, according to Wired, which reported that the Model 3 was the 19th best-selling vehicle in the US between July and October.
Tesla introduces a lower-priced Model 3
While Tesla has yet to begin selling the long-awaited $US35,000 base version of its Model 3, it introduced a "mid-range" Model 3 in October that starts at $US46,000 before tax incentives (as of December 26). The vehicle has a range of 260 miles per charge, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
Tesla falls six spots in Consumer Reports' reliability rankings
Tesla fell six spots in this year's rankings by Consumer Reports of the most reliable vehicle brands. The publication ranked Tesla 27th out of 29 brands with an average reliability score of 32 points out of a possible 100.
"Not only are our cars the safest and best performing vehicles available today, but we take feedback from our customers very seriously and quickly implement improvements any time we hear about issues," a Tesla representative told Business Insider.
Consumer Reports created the list by analysing feedback on over 500,000 vehicles.
Tesla posts a surprise Q3 profit
Tesla beat Wall Street expectations by posting adjusted earnings of $US2.90 per share on $US6.8 billion in revenue during the third quarter. Analysts had expected adjusted earnings of -$US0.15 per share on revenue of $US6.315 billion. The automaker was also cash flow positive during the quarter, recording $US881 million in free cash flow.
Tesla and Musk had positioned its third-quarter earnings as an inflection point. The automaker's finances have been an area of concern throughout its 15-year history, as it has posted three profitable quarters and zero profitable years. Tesla and Musk had said the automaker would become consistently profitable starting in the third quarter of this year.
The DOJ is reportedly investigating Tesla's statements about Model 3 production
According to the publication, the DOJ is trying to determine if the automaker made projections in 2017 about Model 3 production that it knew it would not be able to achieve. While Musk said in July 2017 that it appeared Tesla could make 20,000 Model 3s per month starting in December 2017, Tesla made just 2,685 Model 3 vehicles in 2017.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the DOJ's investigation has "intensified" in recent weeks, as FBI agents have reportedly reached out to former Tesla employees, who previously received subpoenas, and asked them for testimony.
"When we started the Model 3 production ramp, we were transparent about how difficult it would be," a Tesla representative told Business Insider. "Ultimately, given difficulties that we did not foresee in this first-of-its-kind production ramp, it took us six months longer than we expected to meet our 5,000 unit per week guidance."
Elon Musk says Tesla was 'single-digit' weeks away from death during the Model 3 ramp
Musk told Axios in an interview that aired in November that Tesla was "single-digit weeks" away from death at some point in 2018.
"Tesla really faced a severe threat of death due to the Model 3 production ramp," Musk said. "The company was bleeding money like crazy."
An SEC investigation into Model 3 production claims
The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the SEC was investigating Tesla's 2017 predictions about Model 3 production.
"The SEC has issued subpoenas to Tesla in connection with (a) Mr. Musk's prior statement that he was considering taking Tesla private and (b) certain projections that we made for Model 3 production rates during 2017 and other public statements relating to Model 3 production," Tesla said in the filing.
"Aside from the settlement with the SEC relating to Mr. Musk's statement that he was considering taking Tesla private, there have not been any developments in these matters that we deem to be material, and to our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred," the automaker added.
Robyn Denholm replaces Elon Musk as board chair
Tesla namedRobyn Denholm, the former chief financial officer at the Australian telecommunications company Telstra, as its new board chairwoman in November. Denholm joined Tesla's board of directors in 2014.
Tesla begins the production process for its Shanghai factory
Reuters reported in early December that Tesla had begun the bidding and construction process for its Shanghai, China, factory.
Shanghai's government said preparatory work was almost finished and construction would begin soon.
Tesla has said that it plans to begin parts of production for its Model 3 sedan in China in 2019,
A Tesla Model S burst into flames twice after getting a flat tire
In December, a Tesla Model S caught fire in Los Gatos, California, after getting a flat tire. The first fire started minutes after the Model S was towed to an auto-repair shop. The vehicle reignited in the evening, the department said. The fires caused no injuries.
"We are currently investigating the matter and are in touch with local first responders. We are glad to hear that everyone is safe," a Tesla representative told Business Insider after the incident.
Key executives leave
Tesla has seen a lot of senior employees leave this year.
During a year in which the automaker has faced production issues, investigations from the federal government, and questions about the decision-making of CEO Elon Musk, departures from senior employees have added yet another challenge.
High-profile departures have included executives working in finance, manufacturing, engineering, sales, human resources, and communications.