Tesla (TSLA): Are Investors Losing Faith?

By Martin Tillier

There can be little doubt that the Tesla Model S is a wonderful car. Critics and owners alike have raved over the combination of power and luxury that has been achieved, all in a zero emissions vehicle. Neither can there be much doubt that Tesla (TSLA) is already a truly disruptive company, the like of which comes along once in a generation or two. Having challenged and defeated the popular conception of electric vehicles as worthy, but boring, they have moved on to challenge the franchise dealership system that has dominated the car business since its inception.

The company has grand plans. Earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla could someday match the market cap of Apple (AAPL). There is, however, just one fly in the proverbial ointment: So far, Tesla has failed at the most basic function of a company; They have never made any money.

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That simple fact hasn’t deterred the army of loyal followers. In anticipation of the launch of their first vehicle, the Model S, Tesla’s stock began a rapid ascent at the beginning of 2013. It climbed from around $30 to a peak of close to $300 in September of last year; an amazing feat for a company that, until the middle of 2012 had only one product, the Roadster, in the market.


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Since September, though, the stock has lost ground, as idealism has been replaced with realism. Investors were assured that two more models were coming soon, an SUV version dubbed the Model X and a more affordable version of the S known as the Model 3. The problem is that both are running seriously behind schedule and meanwhile the losses are piling up, causing traders to start betting on failure. Over 28 percent of the total float of Tesla shares are now sold short. It seems that Tesla has lost the aura of invincibility.

Once the company is judged on its performance as a company rather than its vision for the future of mankind, it is easy to conclude that, while there is enormous potential in the EV market and Tesla has the best product out there, current valuations are hard to justify. There are numerous risks to be mitigated and hurdles to be cleared if Tesla is ever to make money, let alone become vastly profitable within five years as some are suggesting.

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Many major, conventional car companies have just begun to take EVs seriously, and once they throw their vast resources behind the concept the competition will be fierce. Even that, though, assumes that electric is the way to go. Toyota, for one, have continued with hybrid vehicles, but invested more in cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells than electricity. The power and range achievable with hydrogen power is comparable to battery power, but it has one major advantage. Refueling takes minutes, rather than the hours it takes to recharge batteries.

Investing in Tesla takes an enormous amount of faith. It takes faith that EVs really are the future and won’t be usurped by another technology. It takes faith that Tesla isn’t a one trick pony, which already peaked with the Model S. It takes faith that advances in charging technology can make the cars more practical. It takes faith that the infrastructure build out of charging stations will continue and even increase in pace, and that the battery factory the company is building will solve cost and supply problems that they now face. All of these things are possible, and all have been promised by Musk. Until they come about, though, an increasing number of investors are likely to ignore the hype and say “Show me the money!”

By Martin Tillier of Oilprice.com

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