Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) got off to a fast start this year, with its all-electric Model S sedan snagging Motor Trend magazine's 2013 "Car of the Year" award. The zero to 60 mph gas-free ride even beat out non-electric vehicles from more established automakers including General Motors (NYSE: GM ) and Ford for the coveted spot.
This was no small feat for a company that just a year ago was one of the most shorted stocks on Wall Street. Tesla has come a long way in that time. In fact, the stock is up more than 10% year-to-date as we head into February. Could this finally be the ear that the electric vehicle start-up turns a profit? Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks so.
While significant challenges remain, demand for electric and hybrid cars is starting to gain momentum. Barron's expects sales of battery electric and hybrid electric vehicles in the U.S. to grow 130% year over year to more than 127,000 in 2013. As it stands, Tesla's Model S ranks among the top-five, best-selling, alternative fuel vehicles. The other four spots go to GM's Chevy Volt, Toyota's Prius, Nissan's LEAF, and Ford's C-Max.
With these tailwinds behind it, let's take a closer look at three areas that investors should be most excited about for Tesla in the New Year.
It seems that Tesla is successfully increasing production on its Model S line. According to reports the company has hit its benchmark of about 400 cars per week, or 20,000 Model S sedans a year. This should help the company achieve another key goal: reaching profitability this year.
The Model S production ramp-up is also important if the Silicon Valley-based company is to stay on schedule with the development of its Model X all-electric SUV. That's because Tesla plans to use its Model S platform to launch the Model X crossover, which is slated for delivery in 2014.
When asked about boosting production in the year ahead Musk explains: "We need to get in excess of 20,000 units a year and in excess of 25% gross margins, which would be close to the highest in the car business." This is definitely an area that investors should keep an eye on in the quarters to come.
The way Tesla sells cars is fundamentally different than any other car manufacturer on earth. The company is changing the rules of retail and opening mall stores around the country. Taking a page out of Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) playbook, Tesla hired George Blankenship, Apple's ex-real estate chief, to head up its disruptive retail strategy.
Now as Tesla's vice president of worldwide sales, Blankenship hopes to replicate the success he once achieved at Apple. During his 10 years with the iPhone maker, Blankenship helped Apple open its first retail stores. Critics everywhere said the concept would fail. In fact, Bloomberg published a story in 2001 with the headline, "Sorry, Steve: Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work." In retrospect, we now know that they did work. Better still, Apple's retail stores helped make it the most valuable company in the world, if only briefly.
For Tesla, it is the state auto dealers that want Tesla's new concept stores to fail. In 2012, dealer associations in New York and Massachusetts sued Tesla, claiming that state laws prohibit automakers from selling their cars directly to consumers. Fortunately, Tesla won a critical round in the legal battle when a Massachusetts judge dismissed the dealers' lawsuit against the EV maker.
Today, Tesla is aggressively expanding its retail reach with plans to open 25 new stores this year -- about half of which will be in the United States. Meanwhile, the company's first Beijing location is on track to open this spring, according to website All Things D.
The company's Supercharger stations are another way that Tesla's pushing the limits of widespread EV adoption. To make it easier for people to get over the so-called "range anxiety" that holds back many drivers from owning an all-electric car, Musk proposed the Supercharger network.
Tesla will install dozens of these solar-powered charging stations throughout the U.S. this year. With six Supercharger locations now up and running in California, the company plans to reach its goal of rolling out more than 100 such carports within the U.S. as soon as 2015.
Better still, Model S drivers can use the Supercharger electric fueling stations for free. Not to mention, the Supercharger network actually returns more power to the grid than what is used for recharging vehicles. If Tesla were able to deliver on this promise, then it would likely encourage more consumers to go electric, especially when you consider the cost of gas these days.
It is innovative solutions such as this that move us ever closer to sustainable energy in the United States.
There you have it. The three things I'm most excited about at Tesla as we head full speed into 2013.
Near-faultless execution has led Tesla Motors to the brink of success, but the road ahead remains a hard one. Despite progress, a looming question remains: Will Tesla be able to fend off its big-name competitors? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available for smart investors like you. Thousands have already claimed their own premium ticker coverage, and you can gain instant access to your own by clicking here now.