Tesla Insanity and the Cult of Musk

Elon Musk speaks at a Tesla press conference in China
Photo by Visual China Group/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
September 1, 2021

Elon Musk, currently tied with Jeff Bezos as the world’s wealthiest person, recently tweeted, “I thought 1999 was peak insanity but 2021 is 1000% more insane!” In case anyone was confused about what Musk was talking about, the Dealbook section of The New York Times helpfully explained that he was sharing his “amazement” about “how much investors have bid up stock prices.” 

He could have been, or should have been, referring to his own company. Tesla’s market value is now around $730 billion, nearly six times the combined sum of both GM and Ford. Since Tesla went public in 2010, its stock is up nearly 20,000 percent, the vast majority of the growth having occurred in the past two years. There’s no question that Tesla is cooking with gas. In the first six months of 2021, Tesla sold 203,736 more cars than during the first six months of 2020, generating $8.8 billion in revenue. 

It’s worth noting, though, that 10 percent of Tesla’s revenue from the sale of its electric cars, or $872 million, comes from the sale of “regulatory credits,” which Tesla sells to other car companies so that they can comply with regulatory emission standards. Those regulatory credits are basically pure profit for Tesla and accounted for nearly half of its pre-tax profit, of $1.8 billion, in the first six months of 2021. In the last twelve months, ending June 2021, Tesla earned $2.166 billion, of which $1.67 billion, or 77 percent, came from selling carbon credits to other car manufacturers. Stepping back for a minute, Tesla’s market value of $730 billion is 337 times its last twelve months’ net income, of which only a small percentage actually comes from selling its electric cars. Talk about insane!