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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tesla's tumultuous year has analysts and industry pundits speculating about a possible end game for the 16-year-old electric car manufacturer, ranging from a distressed sale of the company to a soaring, China-led rebound.

Why it matters: Even once-bullish investors have turned decidedly sour on the company lately amid slowing demand for cars like the Model 3 and cash flow warnings from CEO Elon Musk. The next 6 to 12 months will be critical in determining the eventual outcome.

Driving the news: Tesla has always been a roller-coaster and generated divergent views among investors. What's new is a greater wariness about the company's long-term future.

Predicting what's next at Tesla is always difficult — and Tesla declined to comment — but here are some plausible scenarios:

China to the rescue: Electric vehicle sales in China are through the roof, thanks to government mandates, which makes it a perfect market for Tesla.

Yes, but: A brewing trade war between the U.S. and China could limit Tesla's upside in China, and should Tesla default on its loans, Chinese interests could wind up with a bigger stake. In the current climate, however, the U.S. government would likely stop that from happening.

Distressed fire sale: Some analysts have weighed the possibility of a buyout by another automaker or tech company, but most say Tesla is still too expensive, despite the share collapse.

  • Some analysts mention Toyota as a potential white knight, mostly because it's seen as a laggard in electric vehicles.
  • But Toyota has other plans that don't involve Tesla. Later this week, the company plans to roll out a long-term electric vehicle strategy that leans heavily on its own Chinese partners.
  • Any buyer would likely insist Musk leave the company, but that's unlikely, too.
"Tesla is Elon. And Elon is Tesla"
— Brian Johnson, Barclay's automotive analyst, to Axios

Licensing its technology: Tesla's lithium-ion battery pack and related power electronics in the Model 3 are the envy of the industry, but it has struggled to master vehicle manufacturing.

  • Instead of trying to build its own cars, it could license its premium EV technology and software capabilities to other manufacturers.

Or ... Tesla delivers: Musk has a way of defying skeptics, and the company may well manage to muddle through — again.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.