The big EV news yesterday was the Tesla shareholder meeting from Austin, Texas. Elon Musk has stated that he has no immediate plans to leave his position as CEO. He wants to oversee the development of artificial intelligence software that will enable lucrative future products, such as autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots. At the automaker’s annual shareholders meeting, an investor asked Musk about recent rumors that he may step down as CEO. Musk responded by saying “It ain’t so,” which was met with loud applause from Tesla shareholders. Here are the highlights:
Tesla currently sells advanced driver-assistance software for $15,000 called Full Self-Driving. However, it requires human supervision and is only available as an incomplete beta version. Musk expects the robotaxi software will eventually generate more revenue for Tesla than vehicle sales. He also stated that future sales of the Optimus robot could reach 10 billion or 20 billion since every person on the planet would want at least one. Musk believes that a majority of the company’s long-term value would come from Optimus.
Musk stated that the Cybertruck, which will launch this year after a long delay, has the potential to generate between 250,000 and 500,000 sales per year. Production will start later this year and cars will start being handed over to customers later this year as well. Musk mentioned that a quarter million sales per year is a reasonable guess but it might be 500,000. Tesla will make as many Cybertrucks as people want and can afford but it will be hard to make the cost affordable.
In 2019, Tesla originally said that the Cybertruck would start at around $40,000. However, Musk has since said that the price would be higher but has not indicated by how much. Currently, Tesla’s most inexpensive vehicle is the base Model 3 sedan which starts at $41,880 with shipping.
Ford, the pickup truck sales leader, sold just over 653,000 F-Series trucks in 2022. This includes 15,617 F-150 Lightning electric pickups that went on sale last year and beat Tesla to the EV pickup market.
Musk also mentioned two future vehicles that will be built on a new platform that Tesla is developing for more affordable models. The automaker is targeting production costs that are about 50 percent lower than the platform used for the Model 3 and Model Y crossover which are classified as luxury cars. Musk said he would save details on future vehicles for another time but offered a sales prediction.
Musk mentioned that there are two new products that he thinks people will be very excited about. He said that both the design of the products and the manufacturing techniques are head and shoulders above anything else in the industry. Combined, the two products could generate sales of 5 million per year. Tesla is building a new factory in Mexico for these vehicles which could also be built in other plants. Wall Street analysts suggest that the starting price for at least one of these vehicles could be $30,000 or lower.
In response to a plea from a shareholder, Musk said that Tesla would try some traditional advertising to stimulate sales. Previously, Musk was adamant about relying on word-of-mouth and nontraditional marketing efforts such as programs where Tesla owners refer friends in exchange for prizes. Musk shared the larger point that there are amazing features and functionality about Teslas that people don’t know about. He believes that what the shareholder said has some merit and he is willing to take suggestions so they will try a little advertising and see how it goes.
Musk’s comments drew loud applause and he later said on CNBC that he made the decision in real-time while on stage and was surprised by the intensity of the applause. He only just agreed to it so it’s not a fully formed strategy. Some analysts have been saying for months that Tesla should advertise to stimulate sales. More recently, advertising proponents have said that Tesla’s deep price cuts since January have bolstered their argument that the automaker needs more tools to drive deliveries in this climate of economic uncertainty.
Musk defended Tesla’s multiple price cuts this year and its new policy of adjusting pricing up and down every few weeks to balance supply and demand.
Musk stated that Tesla was being unfairly singled out for its frequent price adjustments. He said that legacy automakers do the same thing but it doesn’t show up in the sticker price. Musk explained that other automakers are constantly adjusting pricing on cars but it’s not that obvious. Last year there were significant premiums above MSRP due to dealer markups but this year things are below MSRP or close to it.
Musk also defended the industry’s practice of adjusting prices to match market conditions. He said that this is a necessity because demand fluctuates a lot and something needs to be done to achieve a supply-demand clearing point. Every car company does this all the time and Tesla is no different.
Recent data shows that the price cuts have been successful although they reduced Tesla’s profit margins in the first quarter. According to Experian, Tesla’s U.S. registrations rose 37 percent compared with the same period last year to 155,360 vehicles. Tesla increased its annual production capacity by about 260,000 cars per year in the first quarter by adding a second U.S. factory in Texas.
Shareholders voted to appoint the company’s co-founder and former chief technology officer, JB Straubel, to the board of directors. They also voted to re-elect Musk and Chair Robyn Denholm as board members. Investors voted against publishing a report on “Key-Person Risk” which sought to identify key persons and establish succession plans. Finally, Musk said that now that he is stepping down as CEO of Twitter, which he purchased last year, he will have more time to focus on Tesla.
Electrified Mag’s Take:
We love Tesla and Elon Musk. He is a visionary yet a charismatic, down-to-earth guy. On the other hand, Tesla sycophants aren’t nearly as likable. This shareholder meeting was peppered with loud applause from an audience of clapping seals and whoo-whoo fanboys. The company is on a roll with the Model Y being a top-selling car in the US, Europe and China, but there are headwinds and economic turbulence that Musk acknowledged out loud at the meeting. Cutting through the almost evangelical clatter and din at the lovefest meeting, here’s our take on the state of Tesla.
Shrinking US Market Share
A recent article from Automotive News tells of Tesla’s shrinking market share. ” EV growth is coming as traditional automakers turn on the faucet for new EV models. Legacy brands and recent industry startups took nearly 40 percent of new U.S. registrations in the first quarter, chipping away at Tesla’s market dominance, according to Experian data.
Brands gaining EV market share include Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen, Rivian, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Experian numbers show. Those losing ground compared with the first quarter of last year include Tesla, Hyundai, Kia, Audi, Nissan and Polestar. Overall, Tesla still had the bulk of the EV market with 6 of 10 registrations, but that was a drop from its 72 percent market share a year earlier.” If this trend continues and it will, Tesla’s US market share will be under 50 percent in a year. Maybe that’s why they keep slashing the MSRPs of their cars on a weekly basis.
Stale Model Lineup
The Model 3 is now five years old with no facelift or revisions. New front and rear fascias do not indicate a great leap forward, even though Tesla fans are frothing at the mouth and speculating about what the new parking lights will look like. It is rumored that the Model 3 update dubbed Highland will debut at the end of 2023 and have other more notable updates but we’ll have to wait for confirmation. The Model S and X are even older and the Model Y has cannibalized sales from the two flagships.
Jury Out On Cybertruck
Musk claims he has 1.5 million reservations for the Cybertruck at a $40k MSRP. That was two years ago and the likelihood of maintaining that pricepoint at launch is unlikely. Although Tesla fans think the Cybertruck is the second coming, we see it as a tough sell. Legacy truckmakers have the most loyal buyers in the industry and the Cybertruck will have to duke it out as an odd duck in a crowded segment. The days of Tesla having a market segment all to itself with no competitors is over. We think the Cybertruck is too big, too weird, too complex and will be the first sales dud from Tesla.
Spread Too Thin
Tesla is opening up new factories, and lithium plants and rewriting the rule of car manufacturing with huge one-piece components from gigacasting aka “Unboxed Process.” One of the reasons its current portfolio is a bit tired is all the capital expenditure being funneled away to voraciously grow the company. The rollout of the Semi and Cybertruck are bogged down by this as well. We also think Tesla is remiss not creating an EV van, but that might be one of the two new models Musk spoke of. I think Elon knows he’s spread too thin as well, that’s why he’s surrendering the CEO role of Twitter.
Ultimately, All This All Doesnt Matter
As you can gather from the hysterical fans at the shareholder meeting, there is a sizeable slice of car buyers that will lap up whatever Tesla is selling, no questions asked. The fervor is palpable and it’s clear that many of these Tesla fans want the extinction of legacy auto, replaced by a global car monopoly a.k.a. Tesla. If the goal is the electrification of the automobile and quitting fossil fuels, we will need the world’s strongest legacy automakers to be healthy, contributing entities. Competition and choice for consumers are critical as well.