Tesla has been in the news recently for its falling stock prices and corporate troubles. The company’s stock has slid from a high that matched Ford Motor Company, even though Ford sold 64 times the number of vehicles as Tesla last year.
Tesla’s high valuation was based on its projected future market value. Unlike traditional auto companies, Tesla’s vision, if successful, would turn the company into your electric utility, gas station and auto dealer all rolled into one, through separate investments in solar and standalone batteries. Much of the hype was based on the profitability of its supposed first mass-market electric vehicle, the Model 3.
Demand is high for the vehicle, but the company can’t deliver. As Bill Saporito writes in the New York Times:
Tesla can’t seem to run an auto production line, something that the Detroit auto companies that Mr. Musk mocks are very good at. Ford’s electric vehicles and hybrids, such as the Fusion Energi, may not match the Tesla Model X in style or speed, but Ford can knock out millions of fenders and hoods in its stamping operations with absolute certainty and to tight specifications.
Tesla is operating out of the former G.M./Toyota joint venture plant in Fremont, Calif., which produced more than 400,000 cars annually at its peak. Tesla has been running at a quarter of that rate, and has had to resort to pulling cars off the line and finishing them by hand. That’s not what you call mass production; more like mass confusion.
The other problem is that the Model 3 isn’t really a mass-market vehicle. The company is only rolling out the higher-end version, which is priced at about $50,000 before incentives. Who knows if the cheaper version originally promised to consumers will be available at all this year?
Yet as Saporito points out, the global demand for — and investment in — electric vehicles is surging. The market overall is getting stronger, as battery prices fall precipitously.
Whether Tesla can participate in that coming boom will depend not only on its ability to mass produce Model 3s, but to ensure that they are of reliable quality. Otherwise, investor appetite in Tesla will start to wane, particularly as other automakers around the world catch up to the EV vision that Tesla helped pioneer.