2019 will be a critical year for Tesla - here's what to expect from the automaker

spacex falcon heavy starman spacesuit dummy tesla roadster planet earth mars launch february 6 2018 40143096241_0324643b5e_oSpaceX's spacesuit-clad &quotStarman" dummy sits in the driver's seat of a Tesla Roadster while orbiting Earth after launching aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket on February 6, 2018.SpaceX/Flickr via YouTube (public domain)

  • Tesla endured a wild and crazy 2018.
  • The coming year offers numerous milestones that will determine whether Tesla thrives or struggles.
  • I've broken them down, month-by-month.

If 2018 was the wildest and craziest year in Tesla's 15-year history, then 2019 is shaping up to be its most critical year.

CEO Elon Musk's all-electric automaker will enter 2019 having produced and sold more vehicles than ever and the company could be well on its way to a half-million in cars delivered by the end of the year. That might sound awesome - but Tesla has traditionally struggled mightily with the building-cars aspect of the car business.

Musk will also be facing potential twin headwinds in 2019: an economic slowdown in the US; and the first stages of the 2020 national election. If the US auto market slips into a downturn, then Tesla won't be spared some pain.

There's good news on the horizon, however, as Tesla prepares to unveil its Model Y crossover SUV, along with some other new vehicles, including a rumored pickup truck.

Here's a month-by-month look forward to Tesla's big events and news for 2019:

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JANUARY: Tesla reports fourth-quarter and full-year vehicle delivery numbers.

JANUARY: Tesla reports fourth-quarter and full-year vehicle delivery numbers.

The company expects the Model 3 to add substantially to its 2018 delivery totals. 2017 saw 100,000 vehicles delivered, and 2018 could more than double that total.

FEBRUARY: Tesla reports fourth-quarter and full year earnings.

FEBRUARY: Tesla reports fourth-quarter and full year earnings.

After a profitable third-quarter in 2018, Tesla could post its first six-month period in the black EVER.

Regardless of the bottom line, Tesla's topline revenue should continue to surge. For the full year of 2019, the company could bring in close to $30 billion.

MARCH: Tesla could reveal the Model Y crossover SUV — and pay off convertible bonds.

MARCH: Tesla could reveal the Model Y crossover SUV — and pay off convertible bonds.

Tesla has a market mismatch in the US with its Model 3, a sedan in an SUV world. The Model Y will fix that.

The company has also said it will pay off $920 million in convertible debt, due in September, with a mix of stock and cash. But shares need to be trading at around $360 per share for the stock deal to be appealing to bondholders.

APRIL: We should have a good sense of what's going on with Tesla new factory in Shanghai, China.

APRIL: We should have a good sense of what's going on with Tesla new factory in Shanghai, China.

Construction started in late 2018, but Tesla needs to borrow a few billion to finish the facility, expected to produce vehicles for the massive China market.

MAY: We should have a pretty good idea of whether Tesla has enough cash to finish out 2019 — or whether a capital raise is in order.

MAY: We should have a pretty good idea of whether Tesla has enough cash to finish out 2019 — or whether a capital raise is in order.

Tesla's cash management was rather solid in 2018. But the business isn't going to get any cheaper in 2019, and Tesla has a bad habit of keeping less money in the bank than it needs to run to the company for a full year.

If it can sustain profitability in 2019, that situation could change. If not, then a capital raise could be in order. It doesn't have to be equity related. Tesla could also tap the debt markets.

JUNE: Tesla will enter its first real summer selling season.

JUNE: Tesla will enter its first real summer selling season.

Tesla didn't really have that many vehicles to sell in the summer of 2018, as it struggled with Model 3 production.

But summer of 2019 should be a different story, as Model 3 production levels off and less-expensive trim levels hit the market. It could be the first serious summer selling season in Tesla's history.

By the way, we should also have a pretty fair sense of whether Tesla will be competitive in the self-driving cars race, as both Alphabet's Waymo and GM's Cruise will have services in the marketplace.

JULY: Will Tesla finally escape production hell?

JULY: Will Tesla finally escape production hell?

Tesla makes impressive vehicles. However, the "making" part remains a work in progress. While established automakers crank millions of vehicles annually, Tesla has struggled to produce a few hundred thousand.

Investors have been willing to give the company a break. But that patience should end in 2019.

AUGUST: Imagine the impossible — no news from Tesla!

AUGUST: Imagine the impossible — no news from Tesla!

If Tesla executes in the first half of 2019, Musk & Co. could experience their first ... BORING AUGUST!

To be honest, that would be welcome.

SEPTEMBER: We'll get a chance to evaluate Tesla's new board of directors.

SEPTEMBER: We'll get a chance to evaluate Tesla's new board of directors.

Thanks to Musk's undisciplined 2018, Tesla shook up its board, deposing Musk as Chairman and adding Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison as a director.

The influence that a board can have over Musk, who owns 20% of Tesla, is overrated. But by the end of the third quarter, we ought to have a sense of whether the rejiggered board is controlling Musk — or simply managing him.

OCTOBER: Tesla will report third-quarter 2019 earnings.

OCTOBER: Tesla will report third-quarter 2019 earnings.

The third quarter is always Tesla's most important, mainly because it's been a period when profits have materialized in the past.

For 2019, assuming Tesla can execute over the first half, a positive results will indicate the company's first shot at a profitable full year.

NOVEMBER: Tesla Fremont factory could be showing signs of extreme stress.

NOVEMBER: Tesla Fremont factory could be showing signs of extreme stress.

Amid all the possible good news, Tesla has a core problem to confront: the more vehicles it makes, the more its aging factory in Fremont will show the stress.

If Tesla goes like hell in the third quarter, Fremont could break.

DECEMBER: Tesla could be building and selling over 500,000 vehicles.

DECEMBER: Tesla could be building and selling over 500,000 vehicles.

If Fremont doesn't break, then 2019 could end up being epic for Tesla. If the company can produce and sell half a million vehicles, it will be on its way to becoming the first American carmaker to join the Detroit big three automakers in decades.

Say hello to the big four: GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Tesla.

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