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Photo: Chuck Burton / AP

Tesla shares plunged by as much as 5% in after hours trading and CEO Elon Musk was on the defensive in an earnings call as the electric-carmaker reported a $619.4 million loss today — its biggest ever. Again and again, the usually chest-out Musk told Wall Street analysts about the growing pains of ramping up to produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year, at one point declining even to forecast how many units of the ostensibly company-changing Model 3 Tesla would produce in the last quarter of the year, apart from finally saying it will be in the thousands per week.

"We are in a vertical climb here," he said of the company's ramp-up difficulties.

What is vexing Musk: Analysts regard the Model 3 as make or break for Tesla, which is spending terrific sums of money to ramp up not only the Model 3 but the gigafactory, the gigantic lithium-ion battery factory Musk is building in Nevada. Everything is on the line for Tesla. Musk either needs to get the kinks out — Tesla was supposed to be producing 5,000 Model 3s a day by the end of the year, a milestone that is now pushed out to next year — or he could see his pumped-up share price absorb a far more serious hit.

The biggest problem: Musk said battery production is the greatest bottleneck. He said one unidentified battery subcontractor had completely fallen down on the job, requiring a wholesale rewrite of a software program from scratch over a four-week period. "There's still a long way to go" to resolve battery production, he said.

  • The effect of baring his soul was to make him seem not in full control of the process at a time one might have expected him to have long-ago taken charge, especially given the gravity of the situation not only to Tesla, but to the creation of an electric car industry, which he has always said is his aim.
  • It is not too dramatic to say that, given the absence of any other electric with the enormous consumer demand enjoyed by the Model 3, the near-term future of global electric cars rides on him resolving the problems and making hundreds of thousands of more or less problem-free units of the mainstream vehicle.
  • One wonders why Musk — given that his prior S and X models were both delivered more than a year late — he didn't simply wait before delivering the Model 3 until the production facilities were ready.

Musk punts: Tesla's chief said everything will be better next year, and basically told the analysts to wait until the next earnings call, when there would be much more favorable news. A few weeks into the new year will bring "exponential growth" in Model 3 production, he said. "We're on it. It's going to take a few months longer than we expected."

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

6 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.