Tesla delivered just 76,230 cars last year, remains mired in debt, and profitability is a distant speck on the horizon. Yet Ford, which earned 22-times more revenue, billions in profits, and manufactured 6.6 million cars in 2016, is worth far less as valued by investors.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk keeps telling investors Tesla’s stock price is wildly overpriced based on today’s performance despite his faith in its future. Investors keep ignoring him. Tesla is now one of the world’s most valuable carmakers. In terms of market cap, it has eclipsed Peugeot (April 2012), Fiat Chrysler (May 2013), Suzuki (June 2013), Renault (Feb. 2014), Hyundai (June 2015), Nissan (Feb. 2017), Ford (April 2017), and briefly outranked even General Motors, although it has since fallen back to second place among US carmakers. Since listing in 2010, Tesla’s stock is up more than 1,000%.
Over the last five years, Musk has traded places with bearish Wall Street analysts dumping water on Tesla’s stock price, at least in the short term. AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said Tesla’s “inexplicable” valuation could be “one of the great Ponzi schemes of all time” (or it just might “all work out”). Hedge fund manager David Einhorn called enthusiasm for Tesla “and other bubble basket stocks” reminiscent of the dot-com bust in 2000, and slammed investors “hypnotized” by the company. Tesla’s elicitation of optimism exceeds “any stock we’ve covered,” says Piper Jaffray analyst Alex Potter. Jim Cramer of The Street squawks Tesla is a “cult stock.”
Amid the sound and fury, Musk hasn’t changed his tune over the last five years. He admits Tesla is wildly overpriced by today’s metrics, but believes that the company will one day prove to be worth every penny of its valuation and more. Musk’s statements “oscillate between ebullience and cynical realism,” one analyst said. In April, Musk repeated his stance in response to a Wall Street Journal article (paywall) on the car industry’s transformation by electric and self-driving technologies.
And on July 16, Musk told Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval at the National Governors Association meeting that he had found it “quite tough” to set realistic expectations for the stock price given the “optimism” in the market. “I’ve gone on the record several times that the stock price is higher than we have the right to deserve and that’s for sure true based on where we are today,” he said.
The reason Musk argues Tesla will be so valuable, as his Master Plan (I and II) outlines, is that it intends be a global supplier of clean energy and autonomous transport through battery, solar panels, and electric vehicles. In other words, it will own the entire clean energy value chain.
Quartz has collected Musk’s various (often repetitive) positions on Tesla’s stock price since 2013.
October 2013: “The stock price that we have is more than we have any right to deserve.”
Musk addressed an audience in London at an opening of a new Tesla showroom.
October 2014: “I’m not going to sit here and say we deserve every penny.”
“The stock price we have is more than we have any right to deserve,” he said—again—in an interview with Bloomberg in 2014. “I’m not going to sit here and say we deserve every penny of that. I think it’s more than we have any right to deserve. We’re going to do our best to fulfill the expectations of investors and I think in the long term our stock price is going to seem fair… I do feel good about having the company achieving that value and more in the long term.”
September 2014: “I think our stock price is kind of high right now, to be totally honest.”
“I do think people sometimes get carried away with our stock,” Musk told reporters in Carson City, Nevada at a press conference announcing the location of Tesla’s battery plant known as the Gigafactory. “I think our stock price is kind of high right now, to be totally honest,” he said. “If you care about the long term, Tesla, I think the stock is a good price. If you look at the short term, it is less clear.”
February 2015: Musk said Tesla will be as valuable as Apple in 10 years.
Musk predicted that Tesla’s could be as valuable as Apple during an analyst call in 2015, adding that his “back of the envelope” calculations were not certain, “but I bet that they do occur.”
Tesla had a market value of roughly $25 billion at the time. Musk predicted the company would reach Apple’s $700 billion market value by the end of the decade. Tesla is now worth $53 billion. To realize Musk’s predictio (assuming the 20-times price-to-earnings multiple and 10% profit margin goals Musk is targeting), the company will need to earn $35 billion in profits on $350 billion in revenue, or achieve roughly 6 million cars sold. So far, Tesla has yet to earn consistent profits on its sales of about 212,000 cars.
May 3, 2017: Musk doubled down on being as valuable as Apple.
“I think I see a clear path to that outcome [reaching a $700 billion market cap],” he said during an investor call. “Of course I could be completely delusional,” he added.
“The set of steps necessary to achieve that outcome seems pretty obvious,” he said. “I am heavily involved in Tesla [getting] incredibly good at the machine that builds the machine, which involves, by the way, a tremendous amount of software. This is not just a bunch of robots that are sitting there. It’s the programming of robots and how they interact. And it’s far more complex than the software in the car. I mean, I think, this is just going to be a very difficult thing for other manufacturers to copy. I would not know what to do if I were in their position.”
May 18, 2017: “I do believe this market cap is higher than we have any right to deserve.”
Musk repeated his previous line in The Guardian, saying Tesla’s $50 billion valuation was unwarranted since Tesla could only claim 1% of GM’s total vehicle output. “We’re a money-losing company,” he said, adding that starting an electric-car company was “the worst way to earn money, honestly.”