Tesla - Flying Too Close to the Sun?

Alessandro Carleo (Bocconi University), Ryan Tenerowicz (California Polytechnic State University), and Kyle Amelio (New York University)

Company Overview

Tesla Inc. is an automotive manufacturer that produces electric vehicles, batteries, and solar panels. Based in Palo Alto, California, Tesla has sold over 1 million electric cars as of 2020, and continues to increase global sales each year. Tesla reported total revenues of just over $6 billion in Q2 2020, slightly higher than their Q1 2020 revenues of $5.9 billion, however significantly lower than 2019 revenue levels that averaged $6.7 billion per quarter. In terms of net income, Tesla reported 4 consecutive quarters of positive net income (Q3 and Q4 of 2019 and Q1 and Q2 of 2020), making them eligible to be included in the S&P 500 index.

Figure 1: Consolidated-Income Statement Q2 '19 & '20 (10-Q)

Figure 2:Segment Performance ‘19 (10-Q)

Core Products

Model S

Introduced by Tesla in 2012, the Model S is a 5 - door electric powered sedan that starts at about $75,000. The Model S was the highest-selling plug-in electric car in 2015 and 2016.

The Model S is positioned in the market as a luxury sedan and the majority of Model S owners are male and over 45 years old with typical income about $100k.

Model 3

Starting production in 2017, the Model 3 is a 4-door electric sedan that costs around $31,000. The Model 3 is the best-selling electric car ever, with over 500,000 units sold.

The Model 3 is marketed as an affordable offering by Tesla, that still has many of the luxury features as the Model S. In the EV market, the Model 3 has managed to capture a 60% market share.

Model X

Produced by Tesla since 2015, the Model X is Tesla’s luxury SUV offering, with pricing starting around $75,000.

The Tesla Model X is positioned in the market as a luxury SUV, however has recently seen a decline in sales in 2020, making up less than 20% of Tesla’s sales volume.

Model Y

The Model Y is Tesla’s 2020 SUV, which is priced starting at $44,000.

Positioned as an affordable SUV option, the Model Y hopes to see the same success as the Model 3 (with both cars sharing around 75% of their parts). The Model Y began shipping in 2020 amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Figure 3 Tesla S 3 X Y Models (source)

Products in Tesla’s Pipeline


Figure 4: Tesla Roadster (Tesla)

The Roadster is the 2020 version of Tesla’s sports car first released in 2008. Production is slated to start in mid to late 2021.

Tesla Semi

Figure 5: Tesla Semi (Tesla)

The Tesla Semi is an electric powered semi-truck first announced by Tesla in 2016. As of 2018, Tesla boasted around 2,000 pre-orders. Production is expected to start by the end of 2020.


Figure 6: Tesla Cybertruck (Tesla)

First announced in 2019, the Cybertruck seems to many like it is out of a sci-fi movie. With a starting cost of around $40,000, the Cybertruck is slated to start production in late 2021.

Mergers & Acquisitions History

SolarCity Acquisition - $2.6 Billion

Tesla acquired SolarCity, a solar power and battery company, for $2.6 billion in 2016. The strategic rationale behind the deal was that Tesla expanded its line of electric products to include solar panels, and energy storage. Per Tesla’s statement on the acquisition: “The acquisition of SolarCity will create the world’s only integrated sustainable energy company, from energy generation to storage to transportation.”

Grohmann Engineering Acquisition - $135 Million

Tesla then acquired Grohmann Engineering, a German production engineering company, for $135 million in 2017. The acquisition helped to improve Tesla’s automated manufacturing process and allowed Tesla to improve the production speed, quality, and cut production costs at the same time.

Maxwell Technologies Acquisition - $218 Million

Tesla acquired Maxwell Technologies, a battery technology company, in 2019 for $218 million. Maxwell Technologies was a leader in battery technology before being acquired by Tesla, and has helped Tesla improve its batteries durability in their products.

Company Snapshot

Figure: Tesla CEO and Key Executive Team (Craft)

Key Suppliers

Tesla manufactures the electric motor, battery pack, and charger for their cars in house, several key suppliers provide other parts for production:

Competitive Landscape

Industry Overview

The global automotive industry, referring to light vehicles (passenger cars and light commercial vehicles) according to OICA, is estimated to reach 110 million units by 2026. Passenger cars accounted for the larger market share of 75.09% in 2017, with a market value of 73.36 million; it is expected to register a higher CAGR of 2.9% during the forecasting period. The commercial vehicle segment was valued at 24.1 million in 2017; it is projected to exhibit a CAGR of 2.0%. Based on the region, Asia-Pacific held the largest market share of 53.91%, sized at 52.25 million units in 2017 and is projected to register a CAGR of 2.74%. The market in Europe with a market share of 21.44% in 2017, sized at 20.92 thousand units; is projected to exhibit a CAGR of 2.27%, according to VynZ Research.

Figure 7: IHS Markit Light Vehicle Sales Forecasts(IHS)

However, even though the automotive sector – especially referring to light vehicles – has grown significantly over the last few decades, automotive manufacturing companies have begun to struggle to keep their business profitable. Increased price competition and downside pressures on margins, pushing down the combined EBITDA of the top manufacturers in an environment of stagnant revenue growth are leaving their mark on the industry.

Figure 8: Revenue, EBITDA, and Capex of the top 25 automotive manufacturers (Allianz Research)

Fragmentation & Industry Dynamics

This being said, the automotive industry will be characterized by the following trends:

Strong consolidation: Potential mega deals in the automotive industry such as the Fiat-Peugeot merger, or the Renault-Nissan merger, as well as joint ventures such as the one between Daimler and Geely in China are only the beginning of a development which sees the industry shifting towards a strong consolidation track, which is crucial since sales across key markets are declining and consumer preferences are shifting towards electric vehicles. Indeed, joining forces may be the only way for many manufacturers to stay competitive, or even to survive.

Electric Vehicles (EV): The technological transition to emission-free individual mobility (e.g. technological improvements, investments in charging infrastructure) will have the most significant impact on the automotive industry. Furthermore, an increase in regulatory measures (e.g. CO2 emissions for new vehicle fleet must be reduced by 37.5% until 2030 acc. to EU guidelines; can only be met by implementing more electric vehicles to the fleet) makes the demand and supply towards traditional vehicles vanish, making them shift towards sustainable, and thus, purely electric vehicles. PwC estimates that >55% of new car sales could be electric or hybrid by 2030.

It is no secret anymore that electric vehicles (EVs) are about to become the most important catalyst for automakers to boost sales again after having faced a unit volume plateau over in 2017. In fact, the North America Automobiles Peer Group Index outperformed the S&P 500 at the beginning of 2020 mainly fueled by Tesla, which is the electric auto manufacturer par excellence. Nevertheless, legacy automakers are trying to catch up heavily investing in R&D, EV and BET, redesigning their product offering. By shifting their core business towards EVs legacy automakers seek a valuation boost.

Figure 9: Total Sales commercial and passenger (OICA)

Figure 10: BI North America Automobiles Peer Group vs S&P500 (Bloomberg Intelligence)

Electric vehicles (EVs) do not burn fossil fuels directly like internal combustion engines and therefore have zero (local) emissions. There are two choices for powering EVs:

  • Fuel Cells: Instead of being powered by a battery like battery electric vehicles (BEV), fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) create the electricity with an onboard fuel cell, usually using oxygen from the air and stored hydrogen. Since the electricity is generated by the chemical reaction between onboard hydrogen and airborne oxygen, the only exhaust emission is water

  • Batteries: A battery electric vehicle (BEV) is a type of electric vehicle that uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs. BEVs use electric motors and motor controllers instead of internal combustion engines for propulsion

Figure 11: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

Figure 12: Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

Cumulative passenger EV sales worldwide were more than 3.5mn at the end of June 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF). Sales were largely driven by China, which is responsible for around 37% of passenger EVs sold around the world since 2011. Bloomberg NEF projects it will take just over six months to sell the next million EVs (BEV, PHEV and FCEV), reaching the 5mn milestone in March 2019. In China, subsidies have played a key role in driving EV sales. The government expects China's annual new energy vehicle (NEV) output to hit 2mn in 2020, and for NEV sales to make up 20% of the overall car market by 2025, Xinhua reports.

Figure 13: Cumulative passenger EV sales (UniCredit Research)

In contrast to the significant growth of BEV sales in recent years, FCEV technology has seemed rather stagnant. Only a few models are offered commercially in Japan, South Korea, California, and Germany (Honda Clarity, Hyundai ix35/Tucson, Toyota Mirai), and one model is available as a retrofit (Renault Kangoo ZE H2, retrofitted by Symbio FCell).

According to Information Trends, only 6,475 FCEVs had been sold by the end of 2017 (since 2013), more than half of which were registered in California, which puts the US (53%) at the forefront for FCV

adoption. Japan takes second place with 38%, while Europe stands at 9% (more than half of which are in Germany). On the manufacturer side, Toyota has delivered more than 75% of all hydrogen fuel cell cars ever made, with 13% and 11% coming from Honda and Hyundai, respectively. According to Reuters, Toyota has sold around 5,300 units of its Mirai FCV since its launch in 2015, while it has sold around 11.5mn gasoline hybrids since launching the Prius 20 years.

Figure 14: BEV PHEV FCEV growth and FCFV sales in units (UniCredit Research)

Technology: Increasing integration of third-party software (e.g. Apple Car Play). The growing use of in-house software applications (e.g. software lines of code in vehicles increased more than ten-fold since 2010). Autonomous driving and cloud-based updates (e.g. Tesla)

Ownership Structure: Environmentally driven preferences, the declining relevance of the car as a status symbol and the expansion of the 5G infrastructure are increasing the demand for shared mobility options

All these pressures are currently shaping industry valuations, which are heavily influenced by multiples trading at crisis levels mainly due to a downturn in stock prices, which show the concerns of investors towards automotive market players.

Figure 15: Historical P/E multiples since 2013 (Duff & Phelps 2018)

Moreover, the automotive sector has been one of the most hit by the Covid-19 crisis. What differentiates this crisis from other ones is the fact that the missing element is the supply itself rather than consumers’ willingness to spend. The lack of supply is represented by the many plants that had to be shut down, creating a vicious circle since it has been leading to massive layoffs, higher unemployment and, thus, a decrease in consumer demand. The pandemic will also increase production costs since new protocols and standards have been introduced to contain the spread of the virus within the plants.

Putting the above mentioned into a broader perspective, EV is still relatively weak in terms of volume growth. As of 2019, EVs accounted for less than 2% of the automobile market worldwide – meaning that legacy automakers will rather rely on high margin light vehicles to pull through the crisis. For example, Ford sold 367’000 F-Series pickups in the US in 1H of 2020 – about the same number Tesla sold globally all of last year. Light trucks make 81% of retail revenue for automakers and 76% of US volume in 1H of 2020, which will underpin the volume recovery for 2H of 2020 since no other segment offers such a revenue and profit contribution, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Summarizing, the weak EV growth in terms of sales (2.5% in 2019 in US) will lead to a slowdown in development pace letting Tesla alone satisfy the niche demand for this technology. In fact, Tesla made up 79% of BEV volume in 2019, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Figure 16: Battery Electric Vehicle Unit Sales in US 2019 (Bloomberg Intelligence)


Key Multiples

The key multiples were found using a comparable companies analysis consisting of automobile manufacturers as well as clean energy companies with varying high, mid, and low market caps. The table below shows Tesla’s EV/Sales is slightly lower than the average, their EV/EBITDA is also slightly lower than the average, their EV/EBIT is the highest value due to a small EBIT value and a disproportionately high market cap, and there is no P/E value due to Tesla having negative earnings at the time of this analysis.

Figure 17: Key Multiples (Bloomberg)