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The Verge 2016 tech report card: Tesla

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In 2016, Tesla started to move into adulthood. Though the company hasn't been a startup for years (Tesla was founded in 2003), it's still a small fish in the world of car manufacturers. But it's getting bigger, and as it grows, Tesla is becoming a large company with consequential responsibilities.

Grown-up companies can no longer blame problems on youth and inexperience. While Tesla has been experiencing some growing pains, especially around the rollout of the Model X, overall things seem to be going according to plan. Whether things will continue to go according to plan is the great question for 2017.

At the beginning of this year, Tesla predicted it would deliver between 80,000 and 90,000 cars during 2016. Though we won't see the final numbers until early 2017, Tesla appears on track to hit the low end of that guidance. That's a good start: selling cars means bringing in revenue.

And boy, were there cars to marvel at this year. In March, we got a look at the Model 3, the electric car for the masses. Starting at $35,000, the company took in an impressive 400,000 preorders of the car. Tesla also created an "upgradable" car, a vehicle outfitted with all the necessary hardware for features that owners individually unlock. Lastly, it made the Model S even more ludicrous with a 100kWh battery and a 0 to 60MPH time of 2.5 seconds. All Tesla cars built after October 2016 would also contain all the hardware required for "full self-driving capabilities,” once the software is ready.

But can we trust Tesla cars to autonomously drive themselves just yet? In May, Tesla announced that its owners had driven 100 million miles with Autopilot active. But just one month later, a Tesla owner was killed when his car — with Autopilot active — crashed into a tractor trailer truck that was crossing in front of it. Autopilot isn’t technically a “self-driving” system, but it’s interpreted by many (including some Tesla owners) to be more capable than it really is. Self-driving pushes the limits of technology, but when someone dies we're required to take a different perspective.

Image: Tesla

Other Tesla advancements this year include a residential "solar roof," the $2.6 billion acquisition of fellow Musk company SolarCity, and the christening of the Gigafactory, a gigantic, massive, yuuuuuuuge facility for making batteries cheaply through economies of scale. Musk has called it the machine that builds the machine, which is crucial to the company's assembly line going forward. The batteries will power not just the Model 3, but also the ambitious residential and commercial power storage products. By 2018, Tesla hopes to build 35GWh of batteries at the Gigafactory, equivalent to 500,000 Model 3 cars. Oh, and Elon Musk might be starting a tunnel drilling company.

Tesla largely had another ambitious year, but 2017 will test whether the company will deliver on every project detailed here, and if it can improve Autopilot to avoid future accidents — fatal or otherwise.

Verge 2016 Report Card: Tesla

B+

2016 Grade

Gold Stars:

  • Model 3 looks amazing
  • Solar roof panels!
  • Powering an entire island

Needs Improvement:

  • Deliver on promises on time
  • Successfully integrate SolarCity with Tesla
  • Make sure Autopilot hype lives up to reality of the system