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Liam Denning

Tesla’s Incredible Shrinking Growth Machine

The electric-car maker’s latest results hide questions inside of questions.

Feeling small.

Feeling small.

Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America

The biggest thing underpinning Tesla Inc.’s valuation is the promise of growth. And the biggest head-scratcher to emerge over the course of January concerns how that growth is being funded. Bonus: On Wednesday evening’s earnings call, the company managed to not so much bury the lead as entomb it.

Almost two weeks after the electric-vehicle maker announced it was laying off 7 percent of its workforce, Tesla released its fourth-quarter results. While earnings missed the consensus figure, they were positive and revenue more than doubled versus a year before. Growth like that in a scale-manufacturing company requires a lot of spending, and Tesla did spend a lot ahead of it, building manufacturing lines and other infrastructure to launch the Model 3.