Tesla was almost acquired as it approached bankruptcy
Tesla Motors is flying high these days, with a backlog of orders for its Model S electric car and a stock price above $200. But two years ago, the company was reportedly in such dire straits that it was nearly sold to Google.
An excerpt of an upcoming biography of Tesla CEO Elon Musk published by Bloomberg explains that Musk was on the verge of selling his unprofitable electric car company to Google early in 2013. Musk and Google CEO Larry Page are old friends, and Musk was able to work out some very favorable terms for the deal—Tesla would sell for $6 billion, Google would bankroll an extra $5 billion in capital expenditures for factory expansions and Musk would remain at the helm of Tesla for as long as eight years.
According to Bloomberg, the deal would have ensured that Tesla remained an independent brand until it produced an electric car that appealed to the mainstream market.
Spokespeople for Google and Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When the two companies were close to inking the deal, Model S sales finally began to take off, and Tesla squeaked out an $11 million profit in the first quarter of 2013. No longer fearing bankruptcy, Musk called off the deal with Google.
The two tech firms may soon be adversaries as Google expands its own ambitions in the world of driverless electric cars.
The last great remaining American preoccupation tech hasn't yet tackled is the automobile. That's about to change
“The American really loves nothing but his automobile,” Gavin Stevens says in Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust. “Because the automobile has become our national sex symbol.” Given that longtime infatuation, you’d think Silicon Valley’s tech companies would have been eager to get into the auto industry before now. Instead, many are surprised that it’s happening at all.
Ever since the personal computer became mainstream, Silicon Valley has been inventing or reinventing new gadgets: the music player, the phone, the computer itself, first as a portable, now as a tablet. Amazon remade the shopping mall and put it on a screen. Netflix and YouTube subverted the TV set, and now Google’s Nest is going after other household appliances. This year, Apple is reworking the wristwatch, casting tech as jewelry.
The last great remaining American preoccupation that tech hasn’t yet tackled is the automobile. Much of this has to do with logistics–selling phones or music players is child’s play next to the expensive, highly regulated business of manufacturing cars–but there’s also a historical mindset at work. Detroit, with its combustion engines and metallic gears, was the epitome of an analog era that Silicon Valley displaced. The car was an anachronism, however beloved.
No longer. Google has been working on self-driving cars for a number of years. Uber has started looking into them as well. Now, according to the ever-churning Apple rumor mill, the Cupertino giant is working on a stealth car project. For tech companies, the automobile has gone from a super-sized docket to park a smartphone while you drive to a gadget that can be reimagined from the ground up with digital technology.
The sudden shift is happening for a few reasons. First, with PCs, tablets and smartphone markets close to saturation, tech giants are looking for new markets to invade with their innovations. Second, the car market seems ripe for a makeover. American automakers like GM may be reviving post-financial crisis, but the U.S. looks to have reached “peak driving:” Annual miles driven per person is down 9% from 1995, and even more among young drivers.
But the biggest single reason tech suddenly loves the car is Tesla. The company founded by Elon Musk in 2003 to make electric cars has become much more: It has fused the automaker with the tech company, and not only built a cultural bridge between Detroit and Silicon Valley but showed that both were converging toward each other.
Tesla was a wake-up call to automakers that had grown complacent about innovation. It showed that technology was a powerful way to differentiate a particular model from the herd, and that if automakers wanted to reach out to younger consumers, they should embrace the kinds of technology they enjoy. Soon, you began to hear auto executives talk about “smarter cars” and roadways as “connected networks” structured like the Internet (15 years ago, that simile ran mostly in the opposite direction).
Read more: How Apple Is Invading Our Bodies
Google CEO Larry Page has said his interest in driverless cars stems from the inefficiency of roadways, which not only cost lives but waste worker time in traffic jams. (It doesn’t hurt, either, that driverless cars could offer commuters more opportunity to look at Google ads.) Uber is also researching self-driving cars to lower costs for its passenger service as well as a planned delivery service.
The loudest buzz surrounds Project Titan, a rumored Apple car that in reality could be pretty much anything: an electric vehicle, a leased minivan, a driverless car, a ploy to acquire Tesla, a bluff to pressure automakers into putting its CarPlay software in their vehicles, or a clever Apple hoax trolling Apple rumor-mongers. Wall Street analysts, though, think an Apple car is the likely bet, and if so the marriage of Detroit and Silicon Valley is a matter of time.
If nothing else, Apple’s rumored entry into automobiles seems to have turned up the heat. Last week, Musk said Tesla would start offering “autopilot” technology in its cars this summer. Google said its more ambitious driverless-car system would be ready for broad consumption in five years.
But the dark-horse in this new race may be Samsung, which according to Thomson Reuters has “has the largest and broadest collection of patents in the automotive field including a very large interest in batteries and fuel cells for next generation vehicles.” If automobile technology boils down to a patent race, Samsung may end up having an edge. Samsung even has some history in car manufacturing.
The end goal of these tech aspirations in the automotive industry may well be partnerships with established manufacturers. After all, what company is dying to break into a low-margin heavy industry? Many auto executives scoff at the idea that jumping from smartphones to cars is good idea. They may be surprised. Cars are just another form of technology, albeit one in need of an upgrade. And who is better positioned to upgrade them Apple or Google?
The 'range assurance app' will keep track of cars' distance from charging stations
Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled a new app Thursday for the company’s all-electric cars that will help drivers keep their vehicles charged.
The new range assurance software will use maps and sensors to warn drivers before their car gets too far from a charging station to arrive using its current energy reserves. Every 30 seconds, the car will check energy usage against the amount of energy needed to get to the nearest charging station.
“This makes it effectively impossible for the driver of the model S to run out of range unintentionally,” said Musk at a press conference. “The car will actually double check. You’ll have to say, ‘Yes, I’m sure,’ twice, before you actually run out of range.”
The app will be released as an “over-the-air” software update for all Tesla Model S vehicles. The update will also include a Trip Planner that will guide drivers to the most convenient charging stations, factoring in a range of energy-sapping variables, including wind speed and mountainous passes.
This new update comes after Tesla recently improved the acceleration time on the high-end Tesla Model S P85D through a similar software update. Musk said Thursday that Tesla will continue to improve its cars’ sensitivity to their surrounding environment through quarterly software updates.
“We’re kind of waking up the car, if you will, and increasing its capabilities over time,” he said.
Tesla shares slipped by roughly 1.6% following the announcement, deflating a brief speculative surge of buying in the days leading up to the press conference.
The electric car company has been struggling in China
Tesla may be running out of gas in the world’s largest auto market.
The electric car maker confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it’s cutting jobs in China amid slow sales and sluggish rollouts of electric vehicle infrastructure.
According to research firm JL Warren Capital, less than 2,500 Teslas were registered in China in the last nine months of 2014. 469 of the company’s vehicles were registered in January. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had previously said that selling 5,000 vehicles in China in 2014 would be deemed a success. Tesla declined to comment to the Journal on its sales figures.
One challenge for Tesla in China is the reliance of its electric vehicles on chargers. Because many city residents in China live in apartments, it’s harder for them to keep chargers at home.
Like all automakers, Tesla is eager to establish a strong foothold in China, which became the largest auto market in the world in 2009. More than 21 million cars are expected to be sold in the country this year, an 8% increase from 2014. However, only a tiny fraction of these vehicles use alternative energy sources–in 2014, only 50,000 such cars were sold.
China wants to have 5 million electric cars on the roads by 2020 as a means of reducing rampant pollution problems in the country.
The news of Tesla’s job cuts in China comes after the company actually added more than 4,000 global positions last year.
It doesn't make any sense.
According to Jason Calacanis, who bills himself as an “angel investor, entrepreneur, conference host, and podcaster,” Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.52% will spend $75 billion to acquire Tesla Motors TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA -0.08% within the next year-and-a-half. While he listed a number of reasons for such a deal, his primary argument is that “once the [Tesla] Model 3 hits the road, Tesla’s market cap would make a deal with Apple a merger — not an acquisition.”
In other words, Calacanis expects such a sharp upturn in Tesla financials once it launches the more affordable Model 3 car that its market capitalization could be well north of what even Apple could afford — assuming, of course, Apple even wants to buy Tesla.
But this seems highly implausible to me.
Tesla is already quite richly valued
The first fundamental flaw with this claim is the idea that Tesla financials and market capitalization will skyrocket once the company is delivering relatively affordable electric vehicles in significant volumes. I would argue the current $25 billion market capitalization already bakes in some pretty high investor expectations.
To put this into perspective, current analyst consensus for Ford 2015 revenue — keep in mind that Ford is already in the high-volume, mainstream automobile game — sits at $143.7 billion, and its market capitalization is just shy of $64 billion as of this writing. Tesla trades at approximately 39% of Ford’s market capitalization even though the upstart carmaker is projected to generate just 4% of its 2015 revenue.
Of course, Tesla is a much higher-growth company, and it is far “sexier” than Ford, so I do not take issue with Tesla getting a richer valuation. The problem, though, is that the stock price today — at least, from what I can tell — already bakes in a lot of future success.
That means when or if Tesla succeeds in driving more volume and growing its revenue significantly, the financials might improve, but I am not convinced this could lead to the huge growth in the stock price that Calacanis predicts.
Apple would be better off buying its own stock
If Apple were to drop $75 billion on Tesla today (a three times premium to the current market capitalization), it is highly questionable as to when the company could see a return on that investment. Tesla has outright stated it does not expect to be profitable on a GAAP basis until 2020.
In this scenario, not only would Apple have to wait five years before a single cent of profit showed up on the income statement, but Tesla operations could actually drag on Apple. If the company owns Tesla, and Tesla is losing money, then that comes straight out of Apple financials.
Additionally, since Apple would need to buy Tesla with U.S.-based cash or with stock, the deal would either force the tech giant to issue shares, undoing the benefits of previous stock repurchases, or to issue a hefty amount of debt, which means paying interest on that debt. Alternatively, Apple could repatriate its foreign-held cash and get hit with a huge tax bill, but that would probably be the least likely option.
If Apple is really itching to spend $75 billion on something, it would be far better for the company to simply buy back stock. At least in this case, Apple would shrink the number of shares outstanding, immediately providing a meaningful boost to earnings per share. In my humble view, that would certainly be a quicker and easier way to juice the bottom line than to spend an exorbitant amount of money on Tesla.
Now get ready for the Model X
Tesla doesn’t even need a new car to keep raking in accolades.
The auto startup’s flagship Model S vehicle was named the best overall vehicle by Consumer Reports for the second year in a row on Tuesday. The publication said Tesla’s ability to send software updates to its vehicles through the Internet has prevented the car from being rendered obsolete as new features are introduced in competing cars. “The Model S is a technological tour de force, a high-performance electric vehicle with usable real-world range, wrapped in a luxury package,” Consumer Reports saud.
Tesla sold almost 10,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2014 and expects to sell about 55,000 vehicles in 2015. A new SUV called the Model X will start being delivered to customers in the third quarter of the year.
The electric car maker is planning on branching out into other markets+ READ ARTICLE
Tesla’s next innovation could take you off the electric grid. The tony car manufacturer is planning to unveil a new lithium-ion battery pack that homeowners could buy to store and supply their own energy, CEO Elon Musk said during an earnings call Wednesday.
“We have the design done, and it should start going into production in about six months or so,” Musk said.
Details on the batteries were sparse, but an obvious use case would be placing them in homes equipped with solar panels to store excess energy. Solar energy company SolarCity already offers Tesla battery packs in some markets that customers can use to store energy and use as a kind of emergency generator. Musk is the chairman of SolarCity and its largest shareholder.
In addition to selling to residential customers, Tesla could also sell batteries to utilities trying to increase energy efficiency. Tesla’s chief technology officer said the company was talking to “almost all” the utilities currently experimenting with battery storage technology.
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The fight for talented employees
Although they are in substantially different industries, Apple APPLE INC. AAPL 0.52% and Tesla TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA -0.08% are often compared in terms of innovation, brand equity, and quality. Even Tesla founder Elon Musk is often compared, favorably, to Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs. In many ways the designation fits: both are groundbreaking visionaries who are looking to reinvent existing products — simply put, Musk wants to reinvent cars like Jobs reinvented the cell phone.
Outside of that, you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities to their products — or would you? Apparently Tesla feels like you should. In fact, fact, Tesla is desperately competing with Apple; but instead of market share, it wants something much more important over the long run: talent. According to a new Bloomberg article, Tesla is aggressively poaching engineers, lawyers, and other employees from the Cupertino-based tech giant — 150 as of last count.
Unsurprisingly, Apple isn’t happy about this. Bloomberg reported that Apple is itself trying to woo Tesla employees with “signing bonuses of a quarter-million dollars and salary increases of up to 60%.” This is good work if you can get it, and it shows the importance of human capital to an organization.
A long-term competitive advantage
It’s unfortunate that Wall Street analysts focus on revenue and earnings without considering the strongest long-term driver of results: innovative employees. And when employees are cited for spectacular results, it generally tends to be only the CEO or other C-Suite management types. While prudent vision and management is important, so are those on the front line adding value every day.
Wall Street tends to look at labor quite unfavorably, mainly due to the fierce clashes of yesteryear between management and labor unions. Those battles are mostly over, and capital won in a rout as labor union participation in the private sector is less than 7% — but the nasty relationship has remained. In many cases, management views labor (read: employees) as something that needs to be controlled and culled. Even now, conversations about company productivity tend to revolve around doing the same with less rather than “scaling up” (doing more with more).
That’s unfortunate. Quality employees might not show up on the balance sheet, but they are perhaps the best long-term advantage any company could have. Apple and Tesla shareholders can rest assured these two companies understand that.
A tale of two companies
For perhaps the best example of two distinctly different human capital strategies in action in a familiar industry, look no further than Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT 0.83% and Costco COSTCO WHOLESALE CORPORATION COST 0.56% . Both Wal-Mart and Costco pursue a low-cost strategy, but Costco as of June 2013 reportedly paid its hourly employees $20.89 per hour on average, versus Wal-Mart’s $12.67.
And how is that working out for the two? Over the last four fiscal years, Wal-Mart has grown revenue by 3.9% per year while Costco’s sales have risen at an annualized rate of 9.6%. While there are notable differences between the two companies, mainly the revenue generation model and scale, Wal-Mart’s woes seem to center on poor staffing, inadequate stocking, and a poor shopping experience. These are all problems that arise from an extreme low-cost model.
In the end, business models can be copied, copyrights and patents expire, and products get old. Meanwhile, successful businesses and brands can innovate on a daily basis. To do that you need to employ and retain better talent than your competitors have. It seems Apple, Tesla, and Costco understand that investing inhuman capital is an important part of business. I’d encourage Wal-Mart to work on this overlooked asset.
The new Tesla's crazy acceleration elicits stomach dropouts, flying iPhones and screams+ READ ARTICLE
Tesla’s all-wheel drive Model S P85D was designed as a sports car for the electric age. To convince car buyers that electric vehicles could be quick and powerful, Tesla designed the P85D to accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds and reach top speeds of 155 mph.
If Tesla founder Elon Musk’s goal was to wow people, he seems to have succeeded. In a video uploaded by Dragtimes, riders experience the car’s rapid acceleration for the first time. It elicits screams, curses, shock, and facial expressions that might be better suited to one of Musk’s SpaceX rocket takeoffs.
The car, which sells new for $104,500, has 691 horsepower (221 hp front, 470 hp in the rear) and features an autopilot mode that uses cameras and ultrasonic sensors to read speed limits, monitor other cars on the road and park automatically.
In the video, driver Brooks Weisblat refers to an “insane” mode button on the car’s display—that’s the name of the option drivers have for a super acceleration. It’s that, or a decelerated “sport” mode. Both sound pretty good.