For years, one carmaker has stood out as the leader for electric vehicles: Tesla. But the company now faces a growing slate of deep-pocketed competitors, including General Motors, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz, looking to disrupt its market dominance.
More than a dozen new electric vehicles are set to hit the market over the next year as carmakers make the shift to greener vehicles. That could spell trouble, auto analysts say, for a company that was once the only American electric carmaker.
“Tesla has been the dominant EV player for so long but we’re seeing a lot more competition coming in, not only with luxury EVs but also mainstream vehicles that come in different body types and price points,” says Kevin Roberts, director of industry insights and analytics at CarGurus.
Tesla’s electric vehicle market share is likely to decline from about 70% in 2021 to the “low teens” by 2025 as a result of the onslaught of EVs coming from other manufacturers, predicts John Murphy, the managing director and lead auto analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“GM and Ford are probably in the best position to compete here,” he says, pointing to growth in the EV pickup truck market. “That includes the Ford F-150 Lightning, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. The Ford Mustang Mach-E is also very competitive versus the Tesla Model Y, and the upcoming Chevrolet Equinox will take away some of its customers with a starting price point in the $30,000 range.”
Chief Executive Elon Musk kicked off Tesla’s most recent earnings call with a note of optimism about the company’s near-term growth forecast, telling analysts he looks forward to “an epic end of year.” But he also said that economic downturns in China and Europe, along with the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases, are starting to slow demand for the company’s vehicles.
“Demand is a little harder than it would otherwise be,” Musk said. “But as I said earlier, we are extremely confident of a great Q4.”
Even so, a number of analysts left Tesla’s earnings call feeling uneasy, particularly as competition ramps up. The company’s shares fell around 7% in the hours following Musk’s call, and have dropped 47% since the start of the year.
“Tesla is hitting a fork in the road period that Musk needs to navigate the company through and will be a moment of truth for Tesla on the demand front,” Wedbush Securities Analyst Dan Ives said in a research note on Thursday. “This quarter was not rainbows and roses and it leaves investors wanting more from Tesla.”
On Monday, less than a week later, the company cut the starting prices for its Model 3 and Model Y cars by as much as 9% in China amid concerns over demand, reversing an industry-wide trend of increasing prices this year. Murphy says the price cuts in China are not typical of a company that has low supply and high demand, and could suggest a “potential weakening in one of the key growth markets in China.”
Such are the trials and tribulations of companies that capitalize on what marketing strategists call “first-mover advantage.” They can revolutionize an industry, but what happens when the competition catches up? “We always knew Tesla’s market share would go down eventually,” says Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “People want more affordable EVs and they’re coming.”
But even as more electric vehicles come to market, analysts say name recognition plays a large part in keeping Tesla at the top of the pack. The company released its first completely electric vehicle in 2008—the Tesla Roadster—which achieved 245 miles on a single charge, a range previously unprecedented for a production vehicle. The company has since released four electric models, with a fifth—its Cybertruck—the way in 2023.
“Other car companies are going to have to do a lot more advertising to let customers know they have EVs,” Krebs says. “Tesla has only ever had EVs—that’s what they’re known for.”
Even with stellar advertising campaigns, there’s no guarantee that competitors will catch up to Tesla. Given the company’s head start in the electric vehicle space, it also owns and operates the largest fast charging network in the world, with over 35,000 Superchargers located along major routes. Roberts says this sophisticated charging network likely gives Tesla another advantage over other carmakers.
Tesla’s high stock valuation also means the company can raise capital by selling a very small portion of their stock, Murphy says, whereas other automakers would need to sell a much larger percentage of stock to raise the same capital.
“Tesla is certainly moving faster now than it has historically,” he says, pointing to their new factories in Austin, Tex. and Berlin. “But we believe they should have moved faster and pressed their advantage before the competition started catching up.”
Musk doesn’t seem to be worried. He said during the earning’s call that the company is in the “final lap” of work on its Cybertruck, which will start production in the middle of next year. He also boasted that Tesla’s market value, now at $696 billion, could one day exceed the combined capitalization of Apple Inc. and Saudi Aramco, two of the world’s most valuable companies currently worth more than six times Tesla’s capitalization at around $4.4 trillion.
“This is the first time I’ve seen that potential,” Musk said. “We’ve got the most exciting product portfolio of any company on earth, some of which you’ve heard about, some of which you haven’t.”
But the road ahead will test Musk’s leadership and strategic vision, particularly as his company enters a new phase in its 19 year history, surrounded for the first time by competitors, many of whom are offering less expensive options in a tightening economy. Tesla’s cheapest vehicle starts at $46,990.
“There’s only so much demand for cars north of $50,000 to $55,000,” Murphy says “And if Tesla wants to grow significantly to 10 million units plus over time, they’re going to need to accept lower price points. And if they get to the 10 million unit number, we think they probably need to have an average transaction price close to $25,000 as opposed to $75,000 that it’s at right now.”
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