Despite factory shutdowns earlier this year as Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, the electric-car maker's shares have soared in 2020. The growth stock is up nearly 700% year to date. It's been an extraordinary run, to say the least.

One key reason for investor optimism toward the company this year is Tesla's ability to grow vehicle deliveries rapidly despite the factory shutdowns it endured. Demand and supply have both grown sharply, fueling strong growth in deliveries.

But Tesla still has one major vehicle delivery milestone it has yet to hit: annualized sales of 500,000 deliveries. Can the electric-car maker hit this important target before the end of the year?

Vehicle production at Tesla's factory in Fremont, California

Tesla factory in California. Image source: The Motley Fool.

A year of expansion

There was one point during 2020 when Tesla's target to deliver more than 500,000 vehicles this year (up from approximately 368,000 in 2019) started to seem impossible. After all, Tesla didn't expect to be forced to pause production at its factories in Shanghai and California. The automaker's main factory in California was notably shut down for about half of Q2, weighing heavily on the company's growth plans. Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, Tesla even withdrew its guidance for vehicle deliveries at one point.

But Tesla has made up for lost ground by ramping up production more quickly than expected at both new and existing factories. Tesla ended 2019 with installed tooling and production lines for an annualized run rate production capacity of 640,000 vehicles, yet this production capacity increased to 840,000 vehicles by the time Q3 ended. In addition, at the time of Tesla's third-quarter update, the electric-car company also had new Model Y production lines in construction at its Shanghai, Berlin, and Texas factories.

With so much progress in manufacturing expansion, Tesla has since reinitiated full-year guidance. Management told investors in its third-quarter update that it now had "the capacity installed to produce and deliver 500,000 vehicles this year." However, Tesla did say that hitting this goal won't be easy. "Achieving this target depends primarily on quarter over quarter increases in Model Y and Shanghai production, as well as further improvements in logistics and delivery efficiency at higher volume levels," management explained.

Looking beyond Tesla's 500,000 vehicle target

Since Tesla reports its quarterly vehicle deliveries within a few days of each quarter's end, investors will find out whether the automaker hit its target for 500,000 deliveries in 2020 at some point during the first few days of January.

Of course, just as quickly as investors digest information about Tesla's 2020 deliveries, they'll turn their attention to 2021. Given the automaker's soaring stock price, investors have big expectations for continued sharp growth next year.

Though investors will likely have to wait until Tesla reports fourth-quarter financial results to see management's guidance for 2021. This highly anticipated quarterly update will likely come out around late January.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.