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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

3 hours ago - Health

India crosses 1 billion COVID vaccinations milestone

A health worker inoculates a COVID-19 vaccine dose to a man wearing a face mask of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beawar, India, in September. Photo: Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Thursday that the country's health workers have now administered more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines doses.

Of note: While this is a significant milestone for the country of 1.4 billion, which has been devastated by the coronavirus, only about 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, per AP. Roughly 75% has received at least one dose.

Trump says he plans to launch new social media network in 2022

Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump on Wednesday announced plans to launch a social media network called "Truth Social," and that it would go public via a SPAC.

Why it matters: Most ex-presidents are focused on their legacies, by creating presidential libraries or engaging in philanthropic endeavors. Trump, however, remains consumed by social media.

Beauty giant Coty Cosmetics looking to sell its own branded products

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi. Photo: Axios on HBO

Coty Cosmetics CEO Sue Nabi tells Axios the beauty giant will “probably” introduce Coty-branded products one day.

Why it matters: Coty produces some of the world’s most popular fragrances, skin care products and color cosmetics on behalf of other well-known brands, but has shied away from producing its own branded products.