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Tesla posts record profits as its deliveries soared in 2021

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 year of $3.47 billion in net income posted in 2020. It was the electric vehicle and solar panel maker's third straight profitable year.

“There should no longer be doubt about the viability and profitability of electric vehicles,” the company said in a letter to shareholders.

Tesla made $2.32 billion in the fourth quarter. Excluding special items such as stock-based compensation, the company made $2.54 per share. That beat Wall Street expectations of $2.36 per 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.

The company said that CEO 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 sale last year.

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, which is being tested by selected owners and as yet cannot drive itself, is one of its primary areas of focus. Tesla says the driving software should accelerate its overall profitability.

Tesla's shares initially tumbled in extended trading after the earnings were announced but pared those losses. The stock closed Wednesday up 2% to $937.41.