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Electric car maker Tesla Inc. reported Saturday that it had produced more than half a million cars in 2020, a goal that seemed unreachable just three years ago.

In a news release posted on its website, the company said it had delivered 180,570 cars in the fourth quarter, bringing its total for 2020 to 499,550, a new milestone for the electric carmaker.

The 2020 sales total represents a 36 per cent increase from 2019. And Tesla’s production of 509,737 cars in 2020 was up 40 per cent from 2019.

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It is the latest success for a company that excelled in 2020, despite COVID-19. While some carmakers have seen increases in sales in the pandemic, none has seen as big an increase as Tesla.

Even without the sales record, Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk, had plenty to crow about – a buoyant stock, new factories and a string of profitable quarters.

Analysts had become bullish on Tesla’s sales in recent weeks, based on signs of strong demand overseas.

“We believe, given the underlying strength we are picking up in China, as well as a late push in Europe and the U.S., that 190,000 to 200,000 is well within reach” for the fourth quarter, Dan Ives, a Wedbush Securities Inc. analyst, wrote in a recent note to investors.

The upstart automaker will probably face stiffer competition in 2021. Ford Motor Co. recently began delivering the Mustang Mach-E electric sport-utility vehicle to customers. And Rivian, a well-regarded auto startup, will begin selling an electric pickup truck and an SUV next summer. Several other automakers will also join the fray.

And Tesla still faces its own challenges. Sales of its most profitable vehicles, the Model S luxury sedan and Model X SUV, have faltered and remain low. Federal safety regulators are looking into suspension failures in those vehicles. The company also faces questions about the quality of its vehicles. And Tesla seemed to make little progress toward Mr. Musk’s ambitious promise to have 1 million self-driving Teslas by the end of 2020. The company has yet to show the world a car capable of operating without a driver.

Still, the company reported profits in the past four quarters. Its stock was added to the S&P 500 index, and its stock price ended last year at more than US$700, up from less than US$100 at the end of 2019. Investors value Tesla at more than the combined market capitalizations of several large automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen Group, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co.

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Tesla ramped up production at a factory in China, which has fueled sales growth in that country, the world’s largest market for conventional and electric cars. The company also started building factories near Austin, Texas, and Berlin. Mr. Musk plans to make Tesla’s pickup truck and a battery-powered semi-truck in Texas and recently said he had moved to the state.

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