The Double Trap for Tesla Investors
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives
The iPhone was an enormous gamble, as it pushed the limits of then-available technology – the microprocessor, screen, battery, and wireless capability were beyond what seemed possible in 2007. Undoubtedly, if Apple hadn’t created the iPhone, someone else would have created a similar device later. But when? There is no way to know, but the iPhone definitely accelerated the arrival of the future. Its success gave birth to a brand new half-a-trillion-dollar smart phone industry, and hundreds of billions of dollars were poured into R&D, accelerating development of technologies and applications that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
The iPhone was the most important product invented in the first decade of the new century. It is impossible to look at almost any part of our lives and not see them touched by the iPhone or another smart phone inspired by the iPhone.
This brings us to Tesla, the most important company born in the US since Apple. Before Tesla, we equated electric cars to golf carts. Tesla has shattered that image, showing that the electric car can be an equal and in many ways superior product (with its high performance, lower energy consumption, and quiet ride) to the ubiquitous internal combustion engine (ICE) car. Unlike the iPhone, though, the Model S could have been born a decade or three earlier, as its core technologies – the battery and the electric motor – have not seen major improvements in decades.
Tesla’s Model S is the accelerator that will cause the auto industry to transform dramatically. Consumers and car companies alike are starting to look at ICE cars as relics, despite the fact that 95% of cars sold globally are still ICE cars. It is clear to any thinking person that electric (and maybe fuel-cell) cars are the future. This future is only a few years away, but it would be much further off without Tesla’s Model S, which was a paradigm changer in an industry that had not seen revolutionary changes since Ford’s Model T.
Unlike Apple, though, Tesla may or may not be around in five years. Mass producing a car is an incredibly difficult, capital-intensive undertaking. Tesla has showed that it can make a phenomenal, expensive ($100,000), luxury electric car, which addresses a limited market. But on its own the Model S cannot justify Tesla’s current valuation. For that, Tesla needs to profitably mass produce hundreds of thousands of cheaper Model 3s, a $35-40,000 electric car.