SAN FRANCISCO -- Priority No. 1 for the embattled Elon Musk going into the weekend was striking a deal with federal regulators -- a task he achieved Saturday by agreeing to pay a hefty fine and step down as Tesla Inc.'s chairman.
Priority No. 2 was to push as many electric cars out the door as possible before midnight Sunday, when the end of the third quarter would trigger more scrutiny than ever of his frantic bid to start earning money.
An army of Tesla-owning volunteers swooped in to help deliver cars to new buyers while Musk cheered on his employees, telling them in emails to "ignore all distractions" and that they were on the cusp of "an epic victory beyond all expectations."
An initial verdict of feat or failure could land as soon as Monday, in the form of Tesla's latest production and deliveries release. Investors pushed Tesla shares up 14 percent to $301.01 in trading before U.S. exchanges opened.
The Musk faithful put their full support behind the quarter-end push. In the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, more than 75 people crammed into Tesla's service center and another 50 or so waited outside. In the Los Angeles community of Marina del Rey, a steady stream of customers arrived while tractor trailers pulled in to unload vehicles that had been stored in Burbank. In Coral Gables, Fla., a showroom attendant who declined to be named said deliveries were scheduled hour-by-hour to avoid congestion.
It wasn't immediately clear how many outlets across the U.S. were doing record volume. The one in Brooklyn, for example, was quiet Saturday morning. Tesla's showroom in Paramus, N.J., was closed by 8 p.m. local time Sunday.
Others were so busy that volunteers showed up to help staff out. Andrew Doane, who has a Model S sedan, Model X crossover and Model 3 car and is president of the Tesla Owners Club of the Mid-Atlantic region, mustered club members to pull shifts at delivery hubs in Virginia and Maryland, and worked one himself.
"This weekend is the pivot point," he said, describing it as watershed moment not just for the company but for the shift away from the internal combustion engine.
Vinod Kothapa was eager to leave the fuel pump behind. He picked up a new black Model X crossover on Saturday at the delivery center in Fremont, Calif., just down the road from the company's lone auto plant.
"Fossil fuels are polluting the planet and increasing global temperatures," Kothapa said. "I want oil to be worthless."