Driverless Cars

Apple to buy Tesla? Is Tim Cook on autopilot?

If Apple truly stumped up for Tesla that would make two companies that are complete novices at auto manufacturing. It would be the Apple Lisa of the auto world.

Worse for Apple it would signal that the world’s largest company is completely out of creative ideas and its existing product line up was truly approaching stall speed. It already is but and the lack of transparency only adds to doubts.

Rumours circulated that Apple considered a $240/share purchase back in 2013. 6 years ago Tesla was full of hope. Now the stock is full of hype. It has been a litany of disasters from fatal crashes, production hell all the way to complete wishful thinking on Level 5 autonomous driving which Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in the field, believes is decades off.

Let’s assume a $240 per share deal was done. Apple would pay around $40bn and assume another $12bn or so in debt.

The most dangerous strategy for highly successful companies is to throw spaghetti at a wall and hope some sticks. Tesla is by no means an overnight repair job. It needs the skills of Toyota to turn it around. Don’t forget Apple has no manufacturing expertise as its products are all built by 3rd parties. Toyota rescued Porsche several decades back and Lockheed Martin called in the production efficiency king to help build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter better.

It reminds CM of the time Hoya bought Pentax back in 2007. Such was the earnings dilution against the incumbent high margin business, hunting for growth sent Hoya shares down 50% soon after the deal. Hoya was completely dominant in glass photomasks. Yet the $1bn merger of a 2’d tier camera/optics maker was thought of by the founder’s grandson as a total failure and divested many divisions.

Losses continue to mount at Tesla, senior management departures are a revolving door and demand is slowing. The recent cap raise sees investors well under water. The Maxwell Tech deal looks a dud for the management to accept an all share rather than an all share deal (if the tech is so leading edge).

If Apple truly wanted a car deal, it could buy an established maker like Fiat Chrysler with decades of production expertise and global reach for half the price. Not to mention a wide choice of vehicle styles to broaden the appeal to customers.

Although the history of car mergers, even between industry players, has led to some pretty disastrous outcomes. Daimler overpaid for Chrysler so badly that its shares cratered 80%. BMW bought Rover from Honda. Fail. Even Land Rover had to be sold by the Bavarians. Ford ended up selling most of its Premier Automotive Group stable – Aston, Lincoln, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Just Lincoln remains.

Tech companies meddling in the automobile sector reveals a graveyard of sad stories. Korean analysts jumped for joy when Bosch sold out its stake in the Li-ion batteries JV SB Li-motive. How could a Korean tech company proclaim to have a better read on the global auto industry than Bosch, a supplier to the major auto makers for over 100 years? Panasonic is already kicking itself hrs over the Tesla deal and management is highly unimpressed with Musk after his disparaging remarks made about production.

Have investors ever wondered why Tesla has no mainstream suppliers? Many are obscure parts companies from Taiwan. More established auto suppliers have been burnt by experiments before and they’ll only sign up for makers who have much better prospects and track records.

If anyone thinks Apple buying Tesla makes sense they need their heads read. The last 6 years have detracted value. Pre-pubescent fund managers who have never seen a cycle might see the value of millennial nirvana but the damage to Apple would be considerable. Just because Apple has been so successful doesn’t mean it won’t make mistakes. Tesla would be a disaster. It is in the product creativity blackhole of following the path of Hoya. It would be better to flutter at a casino.

Ding dong the switch is dead

Morgan Stanley has finally lowered its bearish scenario on Tesla from $97 to $10. CM wrote in October 2017 that the shares based on production of 500,000 vehicles was worth no more than $28 (refer to report page 5). That was based on rosy scenarios. Sadly CM thinks Tesla will be bought for a song by the Chinese. Maybe $4.20 a share instead of $420 “funding secured” levels.

The stock breached $200 yesterday for the first time since late 2016.

Morgan Stanley analyst, Adam Jonas, has still kept its base case scenario at $230 per share. His bull case is $391.

Where is the conviction? To drop a bear case target by 90% must surely mean the base case is far lower than presently assumed.

Jonas must assume the bear case is actually the base case. Sell side brokers love to hide behind scenario analysis to cop out having to get off the fence. His compliance department probably prevents him from realizing $10 is his true heart.

Tesla was always playing in a market that it had no prior experience. It is not to say the products didn’t have promise. The problem was the execution. Too much senior management turnover, missed targets, poor quality and too many Tweets from Musk.

The amount of bad press arising from a lack of service centers has driven customers to moan on social media at its amateur approach. The fragile dreams of being an early adopter are being shattered. Cash burn remains high and deliveries remain low. Some pundits think Tesla orders are under real pressure in 2Q 2019.

The recent all share deal with Maxwell Technologies has seen those holders -20% since the transaction a few weeks ago. CM argued how a company with such revolutionary technology could sell itself for all shares in a debt-ridden loss making like Tesla? If the technology was of real value PE funds would have snapped it up or at the very least made a bid in cash. That none was made speaks volumes about what was bought.

All of the arguments hold true in the above link, “Tesla – 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield

Tesla below $200 after a successful cap raise is not a good sign. It’s the faithful slowly tipping out. Await another imaginary Musk-inspired growth engine to be announced shortly to try prop up the stock price. Yet the momentum will continue to sink. The market is losing confidence in Musk. The 1Q results were diabolically bad.

Major holder T Rowe Price has stampeded out the door. The stock is too risky. Musk is a brilliant salesman but he has bitten off more than he can chew.

CM always thought that Toyota selling its Tesla stake was a major sign. Acknowledging that under the hood the company possessed no technology that Toyota didn’t already own.

Watch the free fall. The Tesla stock will be below $100 by the year end.

(CM does not hold Tesla stock)

Mercedes – “grant us tech neutrality“

As CM has argued for over two years – let the industry have full technological freedom (point 13, page 15) to hit government vehicle emissions targets. Mercedes Benz is requesting the same as they have no plans to phase out diesel or petrol by 2039 because “no one knows which drivetrain mix will best serve our customers in 20 years”. The free market is a funny thing – it works well.

How many renewables companies were sent to the wall thanks to generous subsidies that brought overproduction to a market the government couldn’t afford to sustain?

Was Tesla/Maxwell deal smart?

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Tesla (TSLA) has bought Maxwell (MXWL) for an all-stock transaction at US$288m notional value. The question is why any company would accept an all share transaction from a chronic loss-making company to buy its supposedly “amazing” futuristic dry capacitor technology? Are shareholders of MXWL as hooked into the EV cult as those at Tesla? Clearly not all of them. A group of MXWL investors launched a class action to block the deal. Sadly they failed.

If the management of Maxwell truly believed this deal was a winner and the technology was game-changing, why not demand cash? Why didn’t Tesla invite Panasonic’s battery boffins to assess whether the technology had merit? One must question how good is Maxwell’s IP to only find one buyer and for an all share deal? Where were the private equity (PE) vultures circling? How little confidence in one’s product or how much faith in Musk’s cult-like status to fall for such terms?

Maxwell at the 9 month FY2018 stage reported US$91.6mn (-8%YoY) in revenue and a net loss of $30.2mn. Cash halved from $50.122m in 9M 2017 to $23.561mn 9M 2018. The company did sell its high voltage product line to Renaissance Investment Foundation for $55mn with a 2-year $15mn earn out. That involved an upfront payment of $48m making pro-forma cash as at Sep 30, 2018, total $69mn. The company has an accumulated deficit of $277mn.

While the two companies had been in conversation for several years, Musk seemed to get serious in December 2018.

Forget the technological merits of Maxwell. It is easy to work out the quality of the deal based on the structure and the lack of appetite from the mega battery makers or PE firms to validate it. There is no way that MXWL didn’t show its wares to the majors. Given the deal was announced in February 2019, the EV battery and PE world would have at the very least done some back of the envelope calculations to value the business.

All that Musk has done has absorbed another loss-making business into the same cult and give himself another “dream” to add to the smoke and mirrors story.

Maxwell’s management must have channeled Don Adams, “good thinking, 99” but will undoubtedly end up saying, “sorry about that, Chief!”

Japan has the best drink driving laws – socialized punishment

NSW Police will take away one’s license for breaking drink-driving laws (even at low end) after May 20.

Japan has the best method of all. The driver is fined up to ¥1,000,000 ($14,000) and up to 5 years jail. Passengers are fined up to ¥500,000 ($7,000) and up to 5 years each for allowing the same person to drive while intoxicated. Socialized responsibility!

In 1993 Japan had 1,480 excess alcohol related road fatalities. In 2017 it was 213 (-85%). Against total road deaths of 10,650 and 3,904 respectively. Therefore drink driving fell from 14% to 5.5% of all road deaths in Japan.

In 1993 there were around 80 fatalities in NSW. In 2017 it was 42. Perhaps a socialized drink driving fine schedule would cut it further than just losing one’s license. Against total road deaths NSW had 581 and 405 respectively. Or 14% to 10% of all road mortalities over the same period.

Elon Musk’s golden chocolates are already melting

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What is it with Elon Musk that keeps making up such fictitious dreams about the future? So even assuming his $2bn capital raise all goes smoothly, his dream of up to 1,000,000 robo-taxis, Tesla cars doubling in value and a market cap of $500bn is just barking mad. It reminds CM of a time when a mobile phone retailer in Japan, Hikari Tsushin, had Y100 trillion (c.US$1 trillion) market cap gold coin chocolates produced as a hubristic internal target in 2000. 19 years later the shares are only 9% of the peak price reached and 1% of the value of the prophecy embossed on the chocolate. It is up to the market to decide how much a company is worth, not the CEO. A CEO obsessed with the share price is always a dangerous game.

According to CNBC Musk said at his Autonomy Day,

that autonomous driving will transform Tesla into a company with a $500 billion market cap, these people said. Its current market cap stands around $42 billion. He also said that existing Teslas will increase in value as self-driving capabilities are added via software, and will be worth up to $250,000 within three years.

Musk reiterated that because Teslas can be upgraded “over-the-air” with new software-enabled features and functionality, they will appreciate in value, unlike nearly every other car on the market. A Tesla will be worth $150,000 to $250,000 in 3 years, he claimed. He also said that a full self-driving upgrade will increase the value of any Tesla by a half order of magnitude, or five times.

Tesla expects to have 1 million vehicles on the road next year that are able to function as “robo-taxis,” Musk said, reiterating statements made at Autonomy Day and on the company’s Q1 earnings call. Each car should be able to do 100 hours of work a week for its owner, making money as a robo-taxi he told investors.

So if Musk’s cars would be worth $150,000-$250,000 how does that reconcile with a sticker price of $35,000~$124,000? A used 2018 Model S 100D with 18,588 miles on the clock is $60,990. So the above used car could technically be worth c.2.5x higher in Musk’s thought bubble. Where is the stampede of people running to used car lots to hoard compatible Teslas? That has to be one of the best investments out there – forget buying Tesla shares! Buy the used cars. Sadly, about the only cars that appreciate are limited edition classic cars. A mass-market electric car in abundant supply will not be worth a 100% mark-up, even if one takes into account the hypothesis is driven by the revenue uplift of one’s car doing the rounds of a taxi while you sleep.

If Musk truly believes his robo-dream, he should move to immediately raise the price of his cars to the price range he thinks his cars will be worth. Why not bring back residual value guarantees (RVG)? That’s right, he had to take a $121m write-down on existing RVGs this quarter just gone. Guess how many of his current line up he will sell at $150,000-250,000? Zero. That shows us the true value of Tesla. Appreciating Teslas and $500bn market caps. Some of the best comedy going. So is $240/share.

Greatest Corporate Showman on Earth

Tesla’s 1Q 2019 results were dreadful. CM has long held that Tesla is a basket case. The ever charismatic Elon Musk is trying to fan the flames of his company with dying embers. The question is where do we start on this diabolical 1Q report?

1. Musk started off with cash to speak to solvency. Tesla talks to $2.2bn in cash and equivalents. Down $1.5b, partly due to a $920m convertible repayment. Don’t forget Tesla has $6.5bn in recourse debt and $3.5bn in non-recourse debt. It has payables and accrued liabilities of another $5.5bn offset with receivables of just over $1bn.

2. Model S/X deliveries fell from 21,067 in 1Q 2018 to 12,091 in 1Q 2019. That’s -56% at the high margin premium car end. Musk claimed it was due to demand pull forward with a reduction in tax credits. Well he just proved that without credits, demand suffers appreciably.

Model 3 production was 3% higher on the quarter but deliveries were 20% lower. Note customer deposits total $768m, marginally down on the previous quarter. If Tesla starts to implode, customers have a right to get those credits back. Residual values aren’t holding as we discuss in pt.5.

3. Solar deployed -38% year on year

4. (Battery) Storage deployed -39%YoY

5. CM made it clear in point 11 of the 30 reasons why Tesla will be a bug on a windshield report,

The Tesla Residual Value Guarantee, while well intentioned carried risks that crucified the leasing arms of the Big 3. After the tech bubble collapsed at the turn of the century, do you remember the ‘Keep America Rolling’ programme, which was all about free financing for five years? While sales were helped along nicely, the reality was it stored up pain…Goldberg & Hegde’s Residual Value Risk and Insurance study in 2009 suggested on average 92% of cars returned to leasing companies recorded losses on return of up to 12%. Any company can guarantee the price of its used product in theory, the question is whether used car buyers will be willing to pay for it. Sadly Tesla does not get a say in what the consumer will be willing to pay.”

In the 1Q 2019 result, Musk admits that Tesla suffered $121m impairment on residual value guarantees (RVG). Is it any wonder they stopped this scheme. Now it’s payback time. There are $480mn worth of RVGs still on the balance sheet that are unlikely to have been marked to market values.

6. Level 5 autonomous driving is a pipe dream in the near term. 20+ years away. A fleet of Tesla taxis is an even bigger thought bubble. Regulation will put that on the back burner. The current level 2 systems have already shown significant short comings given the numerous beta testing deaths at the wheel of the Tesla auto pilot.

7. Musk is doing a stealth cash raise by putting a time limit on auto pilot upgrades. The question is when will the next cap raise come. His noise around Tesla taxis, Level 5 autonomous systems, Model Y all speak to the snake oil promises that he needs to distract investors from what is clearly going on.

8. His public spat with his biggest supplier, Panasonic, will not end well. Suppliers have to be on board with production expansion. Panasonic is cooling off its relationship. Musk publicly slapped the Japanese battery maker. It doesn’t augur well for the rest of the supply chain either to see these ructions

Peter DeLorenzo wrote the following with respect to Musk,

That this latest charade from Musk is yet another desperate act in an attempt at saving his floundering company is obvious. Where it differs from other Muskian braggadocio is the fact that he is insisting that his AV technology is safe for mass application and consumption. Sorry to disappoint all of the St. Elon acolytes out there, but this is the insane part…

…Unleashing a fleet of zombie Teslas on the streets of America curated by a notorious nanosecond-attention-span personality such as Musk is the quintessential definition of flat-out crazy. You can’t even squint hard enough to suggest that this is, in some way, shape, or form, rational thought. It’s a case of an intermittently brilliant mind that has wandered over the line into the Abyss of Darkness. A dangerous mind that is so obsessed with pushing his perpetually sinking car company into some sort of elevated stratosphere that he is willing to treat real people as so much collateral damage...

This country is 25 years away – at least – from widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles. Yes, there will be scaled deployment in limited, commercial applications primarily in urban centers over the next two decades, but driverless Teslas careening around less than two years from now? It is a recipe for disaster the likes of which simply defies calculation.”

All the reasons CM has disliked Tesla remain. It is so chronically overvalued. This stock will be lucky to be $100 by year end. Sadly the economy is slowing meaning it will be tougher to compete with more competition launching this year. China may give cause for some future hope but don’t bet on it.

The more Musk talks, the more desperate he is. Don’t forget he is not learning from SEC requests to lay off Twitter. His guidance in 1Q is lower than recent tweets suggesting appreciably higher targets. Tesla is a time bomb.