A Leap of Faith: Tesla Motors
Feb 29th 2012 11:03AM
Updated Feb 29th 2012 11:12AM
This article is part of our Leap of Faith series, in which Foolish writers each pick a stock to take a chance on for the long term.
In honor of leap year 2012, I'm piling $5,000 of my hard-earned cash into one stock that holds no guarantee of a soft landing. As investors, it isn't always easy distinguishing the true growth stocks from the duds. And a leap of faith is often necessary in choosing the winners before they peak. The company I'm excited about is an electric-car start-up that's trying to survive in an industry where economies of scale favor traditional automakers. With the odds stacked against success in the auto industry, it'll take a disruptive innovator to turn the game around. Where innovation is concerned, I'm putting my faith in Tesla Motors (NAS: TSLA) .
Plugging into profits
The Silicon Valley-based company designs, manufactures, and sells fully electric vehicles and advanced powertrain components. Tesla's on schedule to deliver its Model S zero-emission sedan later this year -- one small step for electric cars, and one giant leap year for drivers everywhere. The luxury all-electric sedan aims to be not only the best electric vehicle ever built, but also the best performance sedan in the marketplace. Should Tesla deliver on this promise, revenue would also leap forward.
Weighted down by costs, Tesla has yet to turn a profit. Building a world-class car company is expensive, especially without the resources enjoyed by industry giants such as General Motors (NYS: GM) and Ford (NYS: F) . In order to compete in an industry that favors economies of scale, Tesla needs to amplify the number of cars it produces. Meanwhile, Ford and GM are producing electric and hybrid vehicles of their own.
Ford plans to deliver its all-electric Ford Focus later this year. However, Ford's electrically powered vehicles only accounted for 1% of the company's output in 2011. Rival GM, on the other hand, is having a difficult time finding buyers for its electric Volt. The automaker is off to a slow start this year, selling just 603 Volts in January. That's off from GM's projected target of around 2,500 Volt sales a month. At that rate, GM will have a tough time recouping the estimated $1 billion it spent developing the car.
So you see, I'm taking a chance on Tesla's ability to maintain demand and ramp up production in a jiffy.
The company should generate about $600 million in revenue this year, and analysts predict that number will climb to $1.6 billion in 2013. Tesla recently unveiled its crossover SUV, the Model X, which should further boost profits for the company through 2014. With investors like me buying on future revenue potential, product demand is critical. The Model X collected more than 500 pre-orders on its first day accepting reservations, which isn't a huge surprise for a family vehicle touting a zero-to-60 time of less than five seconds. From a business standpoint, the Model X will be built on the same platform as Tesla's Model S sedan, which will drive down the cost of production.
Demand for the Model S hasn't looked bad, either. Tesla is sold out of the sedan until March of next year, with current orders exceeding 8,000 according to the company's CEO, Elon Musk. After the ramp-up period in late 2012, management expects to increase production to 20,000 Model S cars a year, up from its current rate of 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles. That's an aggressive pace for a company that's revving its engine for the first time.
Luckily, sales of Tesla's powertrain components should bridge the gap to profitability. Supply deals with traditional automakers Daimler and Toyota (NYS: TM) continue to be the company's main source of revenue. In addition to income, these deals lend credibility to Tesla's EV technology. Toyota is buying battery packs and motors from Tesla for an electric version of its popular RAV4 compact SUV.
More impressive is Tesla's latest contract with Daimler to build an all-electric Mercedes-Benz vehicle. Under its agreement with Mercedes, Tesla will supply motors, battery packs, electronic control units, and software. I wouldn't be surprised to see similar deals surface in the future as these automakers bring the Tesla product to market.
Betting on the transformation of the transportation industry is not for the faint of heart. As with any new technology, there is no shortage of risks involved. With nearly 90% of Tesla's projected revenue for 2012 expected to come from sales of the Model S starting in late July, the company has a lot riding on the successful launch of its new vehicles. Should Tesla run into delays with its Model S or Model X EVs, the company's revenue and reputation could be negatively affected. There's also the fact that Tesla is one of the most-shorted U.S. stocks in the market, with nearly 65% of its shares sold short as of Jan. 31, according to Bloomberg.
I guess that's why it's called a leap of faith. I've done my homework and weighed the risks, but at the end of the day I believe in the product. Tesla's not building toy cars like the competition. It's paving the way to the future of transportation -- and turning the auto industry on its head in the process.
I'm giving Tesla an outperform rating in my profile on Motley Fool CAPS. Nevertheless, I understand if you're not yet ready to drive off in an EV. Instead, discover another stock that lets you profit from the new technology revolution in this free report from The Motley Fool's top analysts. Click here for instant access to this special free report.
See what other stocks are getting our Foolish writers to swing for the fences; click back to the series intro for links to the entire series.
At the time this article was published Foolish contributor Tamara Rutter owns shares of Tesla Motors. Follow her on Twitter, where she uses the handle @TamaraRutter, for Foolish insights and investing tips. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford Motor. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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