Tesla – when the plug is pulled on subsidies


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.