With all the crazy reasons the shorts have to short the stock and talk negatively about Tesla, let’s look at the actual risk factors that face Tesla over the next 12 months
1. Lack of demand. This would probably manifest itself and some form of economic recession. The good news for Tesla is that the wealthy tend to prosper no matter what, and that is their target market.
The other possibility is if Tesla can’t get to the point where they can offer the $35,000 standard range model. A good chunk of the pent up demand will evaporate if those reservation holders can’t buy the $35,000 car. Given Tesla’s work in Q3 2018 to reduce the cost of the car, it is likely they’ll be able to continue that work 10-15% cost reductions per quarter) to allow them to offer the base price car. This has already manifested itself through the Medium Range vehicle now offered because of work done to reduce costs.
The other ways that a lack of demand could be a problem don’t seem likely – specifically other car manufacturers figuring out how to build compelling electric cars in large enough volumes to meet demand, and choosing to sell them nationwide. Companies like GM and VW promise they’ll introduce a ton of EVs and plug-in cars, but will probably only sell them in CA and OR and anywhere else required by law. And the US is last to get the cars because Europe and China currently have stronger requirements for EV sales. Global manufacturers will design, build, and ship cars for those markets first and the US is an afterthought.
2. Product mix. This quarter will be the highest average selling price the model 3 will ever have. Because they aren’t selling the cheaper models. The only models sold are the $75,000 performance, $55,000 LR AWD, and $50,000 LR RWD. The average sale price was north of $55,000, which won’t be the case probably ever again (I think it’ll eventually settle around $47,000 – lots of base models with modest option mix and many AWD/LR models and few performance units).
This means that the free cash flow and the profit Tesla earned this quarter might be only about 15% less than what they will ultimately earn at a full run rate of 7,000+ Model 3 units a week at an average sales price of $47,000 and 25%+ gross margin. So expect somewhat flat free cash flow and profits for the next 6 quarters (which is fine if they bank it and pay off their debt and their stock price rises to above $360 so most of their outstanding convertible debt becomes shares rather than debt).
3. Paying for future expansion while paying off debt. Specifically the factory for the Model Y vehicle – how much does it cost and where does it get built? Fremont/NUMMI is full and can’t accommodate another model line (if it could there wouldn’t be a tent), so it has to be assembled somewhere else. If the factory costs $3B most of that capex will come in the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020. While Elon wants it to be an alien dreadnought it is more reasonable to expect that there will be incremental improvements – things that have already been discussed are wiring harnesses and wiring bundles that are easy to manipulate by robots so allow more mechanization of the product line.
4. Federal investigation. Apparently there may be a federal investigation of Tesla going on. Not quite sure what they’re investigating (the SEC has settled the civil charges over the “finding secured” debacle) so we’ll see but unless there is outright fraud going on I don’t think we’ll see charges. If no banking executives were charged criminally after the 2008 crash I find it hard to think that Elon or anyone else will he charged for being too optimistic on their projected growth or anticipated production rates.