Tesla

Tesla – when the plug is pulled on subsidies

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It seems that the removal of generous electric vehicle (EV) subsidies in Denmark shows the true colours of those willing to buy a car in order to signal their willingness to save the planet. While Musk has been one of the most effective rent seekers around, it seems that if consumers aren’t given massive tax breaks they aren’t as committed to ostentatious gestures of climate abatement. In Q1 2017 alone it seems that Danish sales of EVs plummeted 60%YoY. In 2015 Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen announced the gradual phasing out of subsidies on electric cars, citing government austerity and evening up the market. Tesla’s sales fell from 2,738 units in 2015 to just 176 in 2016. The irony of the Tesla is that it is priced in luxury car territory meaning that taxes from the less fortunate end up subsidizing the wealthy who can afford it!

Naturally if internal combustion engines (which by the way are becoming more efficient by the years as new standards are introduced) are taxed the same as EVs then it is clear they’d sell many more. Do not be fooled – car makers have not heavily committed to EVs for a very good reason – brand DNA. That is why we see so many ‘hybrids’ which allows the benefits of battery power linked to the drivetrain, which outside of design is the biggest differentiator between brands.

While many automakers missed the luxury EV bus, Tesla has opened their eyes. The three things the major auto makers possess which Tesla doesn’t are

1) Production skill – much of the battle is won on efficiency grounds. Companies like Toyota have had decades to perfect production efficiency and have coined almost every manufacturing technique used today – Just in Time, kanban and kaizen to name three.

2) Distribution – the existing automakers have been well ahead of the curve when it comes to sales points. Of course some argue that there is no real need for dealers anymore, although recalls, services (consumables such as brakes) and showrooms are none-the-less a necessity.

3) Technology – The idea that incumbent auto makers have not been investing in EV is ridiculous. Recall Toyota took a sizable stake in Tesla many years ago. Presumably the Toyota tech boffins were sent in to evaluate the technology at Tesla and returned with a prognosis negative. Toyota sold Tesla because the technology curve was too low. Toyota invests around $8bn in just hybrid technology alone per annum. Tesla spent $830mn last year as a group across all products. A ten fold budget on top of decades of investment in all available avenues of planet saving technology gives a substantial advantage.

Tesla is a wonderful tale of hope but it rings of all the hype that surrounded Ballard Power in fuel cells in the early 2000s. Ballard is worth 1% of its peak. As governments around the world address overbloated budgets, trimming incentives for EVs makes for easy savings. Now we have a good indicator one of the electric shock that happens when the plug is pulled on subsidies.

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Tesla recall – Tempting Extremely Serious Legal Action

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Exactly 1 year and 2 days ago I concluded that Tesla was tempting too much fate with its auto pilot function. I wrote along the lines that it’s Mario Kart type rainbow road auto pilot function was distracting so much so that owners were taking cellphone screenshots and videos while they were breaking the speed limit. Even worse Tesla CEO Elon Musk was encouraging its use and talking of its infallibility. I wondered whether his legal team had been consulted before he tweeted there were more such gimmicks on their way.

It now appears that Tesla has a 53,000 car recall on its hands and as predicted a class action lawsuit against it. While Tesla’s market cap may have exceeded the likes of Ford and GM it still doesn’t generate a profit. Car makers are the target of ambulance chasers. Toyota know a thing or two about that. How many traffic accidents in Toyota’s spiked after it was revealed they had a sticky accelerator when so few incidents occurred before.

Tesla’s autopilot has killed people who trusted it to save them. It so happens that the lawyers smell blood with a class action being launched as follows:

“The lawsuit, filed by law firm Hagens Berman on Wednesday in California’s Northern district court, said Tesla’s partial autopilot technology was advertised as safe and “stress-free,” but instead “is essentially unusable and demonstrably dangerous.”

“Unwittingly, buyers of the affected vehicles have become beta testers of half-baked software that renders Tesla vehicles dangerous if engaged,” the lawsuit says.”

Tesla cars with the Autopilot 2 features were first sold in October 2016. The first generation of the system was first unveiled in 2014. The Autopilot 2, or Enhanced Autopilot, feature costs consumers $5,000.

That is the problem with Tesla. It is a victim of its own self created bubble. It promises everything but delivers realities far removed from those dreams. Quality control is still an issue and the endless stream of subsidies has to  have an end date.

Tesla  is valued at 18x more than Mercedes Benz. Musk mentioned how he recently discovered how important production efficiency was. That is much of his battle. Even if he irons out his product glitches the incumbent makers have decades of experience in mass production, distribution and a swathe of new product lining up to challenge the space  Tesla has opened. Don’t forget Toyota sold its stake in Tesla. After  lifting the hood on its technology Toyota realized it was an empty shell. Let that sink in.

Tesla proves autonomous vehicles have a LONG way to go

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I’m not a believer in autonomously driven vehicles. This idea that a computer, if pre programmed, can outsmart a human. Sure, the raft of new safety features (auto brake assist) and lane assist control etc can help in situations when people cruising at brain dead slow speeds are busy texting and checking FB. Yet, there is a point where these systems are dangerous. I have driven cars with them and there have been times where the car outputs are the exact opposite of my inputs. It is unsettling and downright dangerous so I tend to switch these aids off. This excerpt from the Tesla Owners forum on FB shows how the latest and greatest auto-pilot function is flummoxed by such a simple situation. Read on.

Found a bug in 8.1 the hard way. Ruined two rims after 15 minutes of use.
That’s what happened yesterday: I started the AP on a smaller street with a sidewalk with a curb on the right. There was no line on the street next to the curb, but a line for bicycles on the sidewalk. The AP then suddenly pulled right, as it was irritated by the line on the sidewalk and ignored the curb. The rims touched the curb before I was able to react, even though I had my hands at the steering wheel…I already posted this in a German group yesterday and some people told me they had the same situation, but were able to react before it was too late.”

The idea that people put complete faith in auto-pilot systems is a worry. By the same token more advanced systems are supposed to use inbuilt algorithms to determine whether to swerve away from the kid on a BMX bike doing skids on the sidewalks toward the edge of the kerb braking as late as he dares and an old lady on a crossing 5 meters further on. The system may choose to sacrifice you the driver, err sorry passenger. While there is no doubt autonomous systems will continue to get better, would you prefer your airline pilot to be limited to a computer software program only or would you prefer a human in the cockpit who can assess the situation in real time?

Maybe I’m too analog. A fuddy-duddy that refuses to accept the future. I don’t think I’m alone but one day more people will grow tired of an app-driven existence. Life will become too boring and they’ll soul search for more tactile experiences. I was tinkering in the garage on my bikes fitting new parts, tyres, cleaning chains and doing oil changes. There is a something to be said about zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. I was completely at peace after completing these analog tasks because it requires a focus that can’t be found in a 15 second swipe of an app.

“Made in Australia”Tesla – gimme a break

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Apparently some automotive expert is suggesting Elon Musk will look to produce Tesla’s in Australia as he seeks to diversify production away from a Ginga-factory yet to be completed. I am wondering if the story isn’t a plant to incentivise Premier Jay Weatherill to select Tesla as the battery back up supplier of choice in his panic-fueled rush to cover up South Australia’s self-inflicted energy crisis. Perhaps Musk will promise to put a car plant in Port Augusta. To turn the argument on its head, Nissan, GM, Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota have given up car production in Australia with good reason. It is too expensive. For Toyota, the company that has coined almost every manufacturing efficiency byword (JIT, Kanban etc) and been seconded by Porsche and Lockheed Martin (to improve F-35 production), to say they can’t do it guarantees that Musk will never consider it without massive long term subsidies. Musk is the master of squeezing a subsidy dollar. Go in front of him entering a revolving door and you’ll be behind him when you exit. Put it this way, South Australians stumping up $550m for an experiment gone wrong might be the least of their worries.

Why don’t you make Elon work for you?

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I really don’t understand the purpose of this sign. The meaning?  Yes, but wouldn’t it better for those that can’t stand the President to have Musk fighting in their corner to help rein his impulsiveness in? The poor old Uber CEO buckled at the pressure from people like this and resigned from Trump’s council for fear of a boycott destroying stakeholder value. If indeed Elon Musk is a climate crusader who backs their green agenda wouldn’t it be better having him going into bat for their own cause?

Perhaps “Elon: Please Stump Trump” might have made more sense. If he’s as big a fool as many liberals claim, Elon Musk should have little trouble steering the Trump Administration down his rainbow road and have his autopilot take command. Once again a sign of playing the side not the principle.

Tesla scraps residual value guarantees and proves what I’ve said all along

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In April 2016 I wrote about Tesla’s residual value guarantees

“The Tesla Residual Value Guarantee, while well intentioned carries risks that we saw crucify 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. As new car sales became harder to achieve, new financial products offered sweeter upfront incentives and buyback guarantees (because cheap finance was everywhere and not a differentiator) helped keep the fire stoked. However as front end incentives kept getting juicier, the cars on guaranteed buybacks were starting to return to market at prices well below the ‘guarantee’ leaving automotive finance arms in a whole world of hurt and huge losses. 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. Reading through the guarantee naturally fine-print will taketh away.”

Reuters said, “The discontinuation of the buyback program, as of July 1, allows Tesla to free up cash that had been set aside to buy back Model S cars after three years at a value of at least 50 percent of the base purchase price…The changes come after Tesla warned earlier this month it will miss its vehicle delivery target for a second consecutive quarter.

It faces other challenges, including a regulatory investigation of its Autopilot technology following a May 7 fatal crash and more scrutiny of its financials after a proposed merger with SolarCity Corp.

Within the next 12 months, Tesla has disclosed it could pay a maximum of $192.4 million to cover resale value guarantees on 4,209 vehicles. That amounts to a maximum liability of $45,711 per car, although Tesla could offset payouts by reselling repurchased vehicles.”

The issue as we wrote above is simple – what Tesla can resell used cars for is at the end of the day decided by the consumer.

CEO Musk is a visionary but he is also a rookie in the automotive game. Whether it be his dismissive attitude at the shares being unaffected by a death related to the auto-pilot he so actively promotes or the realisation that production efficiency means so much so late in the game tells you all you need to know. This could well end in a disaster. As I often point out. Toyota bought into Tesla. Then sold out. In a sense it dated the American and saw there was not much under the hood in terms of technology and realised it wasn’t worth holding in the long run. Investors may be fooled by the ‘Tesla’ phenomenon but when a pioneer such as Toyota has spoken indirectly like this it speaks volumes at how far behind they really are.

Perhaps the deal is simple. Buying a 1965 Ford Mustang for the intrinsic value of its push-rod V8 makes sense because you’re buying it for the ‘engineering’. Unlike a Tesla, you are buying a the equivalent of a 3 year old iPhone and there is little value proposition in that. Buying tech is all about the latest and greatest. I am doubting that iPhone4 will become a back in vogue product…

Tesla sneaks Q2 release hoping no one would notice

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I keep reminding people that Tesla is still an amateur in a professional industry. It snuck its poor Q2 results on a weekend hoping many would sleep through it. Tesla targeted 17,000 sales for Q2

Tesla Q2 deliveries were lower than anticipated at 14,370 vehicles, consisting of 9,745 Model S and 4,625 Model X. In total, 5,150 customer-ordered vehicles were still in transit at the end of the quarter and will be delivered in early Q3. That amount was higher than expected (there were 2,615 vehicles in transit to customers at the end of Q1) and is more than a third of the number of cars that completed delivery in Q2.

As we face economic downturn Tesla’s life will only get harder