Tesla Is (Still) Wiping the Floor With Legacy Carmakers
Once again, I underestimated Tesla… or perhaps I overestimated the legacy carmakers. Given my low opinion of them, I didn’t think that was possible. But here we are.
Over the years, I’ve pointed out that Tesla has made fewer cars than the other manufacturers. It lacks a national dealership network, and its vehicle lineup has gotten tired. On top of all that, even though the legacy automakers are slow to do, well, everything, it seemed likely that eventually they’d figure out some people really want electric cars, and then Tesla would face real competition. All of that has transpired as expected, but I failed to recognize the tendency of the legacy carmakers to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In 2009, General Motors went bankrupt, took a $50 billion “loan” from the U.S. government, pawned its gold-plated United Auto Workers pension off on the government, had its debt forgiven, and marched into the future with a tax-loss carry-forward worth tens of millions of dollars. The company went public again a year later, in 2010, at about $35 per share. On July 14, the stock closed at $40, up a whopping $5 over almost 13 years. Keep in mind that this is after GM had its debt erased.
GM accomplished this ignominious feat first by making cars that people want, like my wife’s 2015 Colorado 4X4 pickup truck, and then by turning its focus to cars that people don’t want, like the Chevy Volt and Bolt. GM is committed to phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and instead making electric vehicles. The problem is that GM earns all of its profits from ICEVs, especially big, gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs, and loses money on the EVs that it plunks out. The company has committed to spending at least $35 billion on EVs over the next several years, even though it has yet to prove it can make models that everyday consumers can afford and want to buy. Maybe GM leadership plans to “make it up on volume.”
Whatever their logic, so far, the plan execution and forecast leave nothing for investors. It looks to be a Rube Goldberg machine that uses a lot of energy in a series of complicated workings but doesn’t quite succeed.
On the other side of the fence is Tesla. Yes, the Model S, Y, X, and 3 are tired. But Tesla makes between 18% and 25% on every car it sells and can change pricing at any time, undercutting GM, Ford, and the other manufacturers, who already operate in the red. Tesla just announced completion of its first Cybertruck, which will start rolling off the assembly line in a matter of weeks. While Tesla has not disclosed the price, it’s likely to cost around $50,000. This is $10,000 more than the cost estimated when the concept truck was unveiled in 2021, but also $10,000 less than the entry-level, electric Ford F150 Lightning.
I called Tesla a buy earlier this year when it flirted with $100, and I made some money on it. I sold it too soon. The legacy automakers continue to stand in a circular firing squad while Tesla rides away with buckets of money. Nothing about this situation is likely to change anytime soon.
Written by Rodney Johnson The Rodney Johnson Report
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