A year ago today, Tesla's market cap was $113 billion. Even then, that seemed to be too hefty valuation to many investors and analysts, with many predicting the number would fall back to earth, and others shorting the stock. Yet Tesla ended January 2020 with a 56% stock rally, claiming the title of most valuable car company in history, a crown it has far from relinquished.

Tesla promised new features and vehicles in 2020, and though not all those promises were delivered on, the stock price line only curved upwards — way upwards — from there on out. Every dollar invested in the company a year ago would be worth $761 today. Its market cap is now $773 billion. And that number will probably be higher tomorrow. All this has propelled CEO Elon Musk to become, today, the wealthiest person on earth.

The success of Tesla means that in 2021, the race to capture portions of the electric vehicle market is full steam, or battery, ahead. Multiple car manufacturers, such as Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and more are now producing electric vehicles to compete with Tesla. Ford is producing the Mustang Mach-E, set for release later this year. Mercedes-Benz has the EQC 400, listed as a “future vehicle.” 

But the clock didn’t only start ticking in 2021. You may remember the now-infamous story of Nikola Motors, a darling startup that promised to go toe-to-toe with Tesla by manufacturing a wide range of hydrogen-powered vehicles, from 16-wheelers to jetskis. The company scored a $2 billion investment from General Motors in September, just a few short months after going public, to help produce a Hydrogen-powered pickup truck called the Badger as part of GM’s effort to invest in electric and hybrid vehicles. Before that dream could come to fruition, disaster struck the company when research firm Hindenburg published a letter claiming Nikola vastly overstated the capabilities of their technology. The letter essentially outed Nikola as a business built on an "intricate fraud", and GM pulled its investment before it could go through. 

Though Nikola may have gone bust, it wasn’t the only electric vehicle startup attempting to duke it out with Tesla. A number of companies have emerged to take a bite out of the market: five electric vehicle startups tracked by Thinknum all enjoyed significant workforce growth throughout 2020.

Linkedin Headcount data shows that Rivian, Lucid Motors, Fisker, and Bollinger Motors have all expanded their workforce by anywhere from 70% to 157% over the course of 2020. Rivian, a California-based startup founded in 2009, has seen the greatest growth overall, adding 1,730 employees since January 2020. It’s current headcount sits at 2,820 — a 157% increase year-over-year. The company’s first vehicle is set to launch in June.

Lucid Motors sits at the second highest headcount, having grown by sitting at 1,500 employees (a 144% increase). Fisker is next at 169 employees (an 89% increase) and Bollinger sits at just 41 employees (a 70% increase). Money certainly reached electric vehicle tables by the end of last year. 

Even Nikola Motors kept chugging along after its late summer fiasco, ringing in at 403 employees — a 50.5% increase since July.

But adding Tesla (with its $773.5 billion market cap) into the mix shows just the level of manpower each of these startups is competing with. Though it may not have grown its workforce the most in 2020, increasing it by only 30%, Tesla still clocks in with a whopping 38.1k employees — over seven times the total workforce of the other startups, combined. 

These companies may all wish to frame themselves as little guys punching up at Tesla, but with a market cap as big and resources as vast as Musk’s company has, their real opponents are each other. And the prize for whoever wins this particular game of survivor is to go up against Tesla.

That's not to say no viable competition will ever emerge for Musk, but the capital costs of starting a company that designs cars, runs a manufacturing line, and produces cutting edge battery technology are absolutely massive. There are only a handful of companies and individuals in the world that could capitalize a startup on that scale. And while established car companies are moving towards electric vehicles as rapidly as possible, they will always be burdened by their legacy business costs. Waiting for all of them, like a final boss, will be Tesla.

All that means that besides building cars, the most important thing Tesla has built may actually just be Tesla — a company with perhaps the biggest economic moat in the history of business.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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