2020 will be the most shocking year in Tesla’s history but not for any of the usual reasons – Business Insider Nordic

Never a dull moment that's been Tesla's story pretty much since the beginning. My first conversation with anyone at the company, back in 2008 before it went public, was about how Tesla could avoid going out of business.

Tesla is 16 years old, and for much of that period the electric-car maker's live-on-the-edge ethos has made it widely admired while also routinely inviting naysayers to predict its imminent demise. On one hand, Tesla is changing the world. On the other hand, Tesla is going bankrupt.

To be honest, the dynamic is exhausting. Especially in the context of the auto industry, where uneventful execution is everything. While Tesla has been taking us on a roller-coaster ride, Toyota has been cranking out millions of cars every year, selling them to satisfied customers, and making predictable bank.

True, Chrysler and General Motors did enter Chapter 11 during the financial crisis. But both companies had stayed alive for a century, more or less, before numerous legacy problems caught up with them. They'd successfully weathered many downturns before the US economy basically collapsed around them.

The Tesla Model 3. Matthew DeBord/BI

Back to Tesla and its ongoing fortunes. On Wednesday, the company clobbered expectations for fourth-quarter 2019 earnings, and its stock price, already on a tear since last year, blasted higher in after-hours trading. Remarkably, an automaker that had rarely posted a quarter in the black since its 2010 initial public offering was worth more on paper at over $100 billion in market capitalization than Volkswagen.

The financial valuation is kind of screwy, of course. VW's enterprise value remains vastly higher than Tesla's, and Tesla would have to more than double its already ludicrous market cap to surpass Toyota, the world's most valuable carmaker. It bears repeating that Tesla sold fewer than 400,000 vehicles last year, while GM and Ford Tesla is valued more highly than the two combined sold nearly 6 million.

But let's not get hung up on the little numbers versus the big. The salient point here is that in 2020, Tesla is really going to shock everybody. And not for the usual reasons.

The year is likely to be boooor-ing. Not boring in that CEO Elon Musk won't do or say some wild things, or that Tesla won't showcase some zany product, as it did late last year with its sci-fi-grade Cybertruck.

No, boring in the sense that Tesla has finally developed the self-sustaining business that has long evaded it. By my reckoning, we could look forward to four quarters of about $7 billion in revenue, with something like $1 a share in GAAP profit. Presto: $28 billion for the year (and probably more), with $4 a share in profit (back of the envelope, by the way, so please correct me if I'm off).

That looks more like a single quarter for a traditional carmaker, so clearly Tesla's share price is silly time and should retreat if for no other reason than longtime investors would be crazy not to rake in some winnings at this point and hedge against a pullback, which could be substantial.

But what we have here, ladies and gents, is a business that is finally working the way it's supposed to.

Tesla's factory in California. Tesla

Two big issues remain. Global demand for electric vehicles is, to be blunt, terrible. Tesla dominates a tiny market that isn't growing very rapidly. Tesla also hasn't established what its net margin per vehicle is. The investment idea is that it could be 20% an Apple-like figure in an industry where anything close to 10% is considered outstanding. The bottom line, quite literally, is a question of whether Tesla can build cars for a lot less than it costs to sell them.

Tesla also has one unconfronted challenge in 2020 that isn't much discussed: With its fleet expanding, can it service all the cars it has sold? Tesla's weakness has always been its production capabilities, which curiously lag the rest of the industry's (Tesla's entire 2019 output is a few months of work for a legacy player).

But while its vehicles have made owners deliriously happy, cars do break, and Tesla's service infrastructure is at best gestational right now. The smartest move it could make would be to abandon its preoccupation with direct sales and avoiding the US franchise dealer systems and adopt a hybrid model, partnering with a major dealer chain for service in the same way it has allied with big banks for financing.

In the grand scheme of things, however, that won't slow Tesla down too much. So sit back, relax, and enjoy 2020, the most boring year in Tesla's history.

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2020 will be the most shocking year in Tesla's history but not for any of the usual reasons - Business Insider Nordic

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