July 20, 2013

A SWOT analysis: Can Tesla Motors save the world?

Named after the scientist Nikola Tesla, Tesla Motors ($TSLA) was founded in 2003. Exactly who founded Tesla Motors can be discussed, but it was probably Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning, and Ian Wright. The problem was that the founders didn't have the money needed to realize their idea, so they contacted Elon Musk, who decided to invest in the company. Elon Musk had earlier founded the companies Zip2, PayPal, and SpaceX.

They couldn't begin with a cheap electric car - it would have been too expensive. So they had to begin with an expensive sports car: the Roadster. The idea behind this decision was that the profits from the Roadster would pay for a less expensive car: the Model S, and the profits from the Model S would pay for an even cheaper car. Tesla Motors have now produced the Roadster, only 2500 were sold and you can no longer purchase a new one, and have now begun to sell Model S around the world. The third cheaper electric car is currently under development by the company and we might see it in 2015.

Elon Musk became interested in electric cars because he is well aware of peak oil. The idea behind peak oil is that oil is a finite resource and Elon Musk believes the production of oil will begin to decrease after year 2020. As the production of oil decreases, the price of oil will increase and more people will buy electric cars. Tesla Motors goal is to speed up this transition from gasoline cars to electric cars, thus their vision is:
"Create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world's transition to electric vehicles."
   
Tesla Motors ($TSLA) Stock Chart

SWOT

Strengths
  • According to the CEO Elon Musk, Tesla Motors is like the special forces, such as the Navy Seals. Since the special forces are only recruiting the best, so does Tesla Motors.
  • The CEO Elon Musk has earlier founded companies like PayPal and SpaceX, so he has a good track record.
  • Tesla Motors can design really good cars. The Model S won the 2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year award, which is a competition that began in 1949, and the Model S might be the safest car ever according to crash tests.   
  • They are building their cars in California - not in Detroit. An electric vehicle is like a hybrid between a computer and a gasoline car, and they can find the best computer- and electrical engineers in California. The area is also more innovative than Detroit.
  • Only 20 percent of Tesla Motors factory is used to produce Model S, so as new models from Tesla Motors arrives, the company doesn't need to build a new factory.
  • Tesla Motors will only sell electric cars. They have dismissed alternatives such as fuel cells, hybrids, diesel, and ethanol. The problem with fuel cells is that they are always ten years into the future. The problem with hybrids and diesel is that we will run out of oil in the near future because oil is a finite resource. The problem with ethanol is that you have to grow it somewhere, and where is the unused land needed? The Electric car technology exists today and we can power them with electricity as long as the Sun shines. Elon Musk is also the owner of SolarCity that installs solar panels and both SolarCity and Tesla Motors are collaborating with each other.
  • Popular among celebrities like George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon, David Letterman, the founders of Google, and many more.
  • The Tesla Stores are similar to the Apple Stores and are an innovative way to market the Tesla cars.
  • The Tesla-owned Superchargers are, on average, 16 times faster than most public charging stations.

Weaknesses
  • The CEO Elon Musk is working as CEO and CTO of SpaceX and as the CEO of Tesla Motors. That's a busy schedule and it would be difficult to find a new CEO. Before Elon Musk became the CEO of Tesla, the company had to fire one CEO, they had two interim-CEOs, and they interviewed more than 20 people before Elon Musk decided to take the job himself.
  • Tesla Motors are only selling electric cars, and people are still suspicious of electric cars. To tackle the problem, Tesla Motors have begun to build Tesla Stores. People can visit these stores and learn why electric cars belongs to the future. 
  • The infrastructure around electric cars does not exist. Tesla Motors are doing their best to change this by building Superchargers, which are like gas stations but for electric vehicles only. It will be free to charge your Tesla Motors car at these stations. They are also developing stations where you can replace the battery with a recharged battery since it takes maybe 30 minutes to charge the battery at the Supercharger. 
  • Model S is the only car model. But Tesla Motors are also designing an SUV called Model X. And in the future, they have plans to design a cheap electric car, a new sports car, and an electric truck.
  • The batteries have to improve. Historically, the batteries have improved by eight percent a year, but there's no guarantee that they will improve in the future.
  • Limited operating history - the company is just ten years old.
  • Limited revenues and lack of profitability. The car industry is competitive so there are no guarantees that you will make money despite that you are marketing great cars. Here in Sweden we used to have this car company Saab. The cars were great - they got good reviews and top points at safety tests - but not enough customers bought them, so Saab had to file for bankruptcy and was bought by the Chinese.  

Opportunities
  • The world is running out of oil. As the price of oil increases because of the limited supply, more people will buy electric cars (Read more: What will happen after Peak Oil?).
  • Daimler and Toyota have decided to buy electric vehicle technology from Tesla Motors, and more auto manufacturers may decide to do the same.
  • People care more and more about environmental issues and the fact that most oil comes from "troublesome" countries.
  • The charging stations and the swapping stations are today not standardized. But Tesla Motors will begin to build these anyway for their own cars, and other auto manufacturers may follow them and pay Tesla Motors to use their stations for their electric vehicles. So Tesla Motors has the potential to become a car company and an energy company.
  • Can use their battery technology in other areas, such as storing power from solar panels.
  • Sell cars on other planets. Elon Musk is also the CEO of SpaceX which is a company with the long-term goal to colonize Mars. In an interview, Elon Musk said, "For sure Tesla would make the first people transporter on Mars!"

Threats
  • More and more auto manufacturers are releasing their own environmental friendly cars. Since these companies are larger than Tesla Motors, they (not all) have more financial resources, thus they can survive longer if the price of oil doesn't increase in the near future. 
  • Electric vehicle related accidents may scare away customers. For example, a fire in one of the batteries is generally front-page news. On the other hand, there are more than 750 accidents per day related to combustion engines - and that's not front-page news.
  • Electric cars are still expensive and a new recession, like the one in 2008, may limit the demand.
  • Young people are less interested in cars compared with older generations.

Learn more

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk's other companies such as SolarCity, and the founder himself, you should read my new biography book on Elon Musk (380 pages). There are two chapters available for free: "Sand Hill Road" tells the story of how Elon Musk crashed his McLaren F1, and "The Electric Stars" tells the story of Tesla Motors's first small steps.

"I doubt anyone, even Musk's employees, will get through it without some big insights about Elon and his companies."
- z940912

"Good shit."
- Cornucopia

"It serves well as a first pass on the story of Elon Musk. I actually learned quite a bit."
- Chad Kohalyk

"The Engineer is loaded with clues as to what comprises such a hard driven visionary. The research Erik Nordeus did to write this book is remarkable."
- Heavy Duty Insight

If you thought this SWOT analysis was interesting, you will also like the following SWOT analysis: Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, SolarCity

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