Tesla’s 2020 showing has created an aftermath of reflection from bulls and bears alike. Despite the company coming off of a record year with a massive 500,000 vehicle delivery and production rate, which was considered “absurd” by some short-sellers in years past, Tesla proved the doubters wrong once again.
Everyone knows that the stock market is really an unpredictable and unfathomably tough thing to read. Some of the world’s best analysts can misread even the slightest bit of data and be miles off of what a particular stock accomplishes. Tesla, which is one of the more polarizing stocks despite its 700% climb in 2020, has had doubters since day 1. The difference between doubters of Tesla and doubters of other companies is that Tesla shorts and bears are some of the most vocal on Wall Street because the company’s momentum and hype have been talked about for nearly a decade.
2020 was easily the toughest year for the U.S. automotive market since the Great Recession of 2008. Tesla was one of the few companies that accomplished the feat of sustaining growth through the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which crippled many industries, not just the automotive one, for most of the year. However, doubts on Tesla set in way back when the company started in 2008. Six years after Tesla built the original Roadster, analysts were still curious about the automaker’s capabilities moving forward and doubted that it would be able to scale its production to half-a-million cars by 2020. The old saying goes, “hindsight is 2020,” and as Tesla reached its goal for the year, it is easy to sit back and judge those who were wrong. However, their reasoning for not reaching 500,000 vehicles was completely flawed, and everything Tesla said it would do years ago has been accomplished.
Mark Spiegel called 500,000 cars in 2020 “absurd”
Mark Spiegel is a notable Tesla short-seller and has been bearish on the automaker’s stock for years. In 2014, Spiegel posted an article to Seeking Alpha, titled, “Why Projections For Tesla To Sell 500,000 Cars In 2020 Are Absurd.”
Spiegel used data like the compound annual growth rate to support his evidence, stating, “If Tesla sells 35,000 cars this year, 500,000 sales in 2020 would imply a six-year CAGR of 56%.” Additionally, Spiegel did not believe that Tesla could scale growth at that rate in six years because “no complex product manufacturer has ever grown that quickly from a revenue base of $3 billion or more.” But hey, there is a first time for everything.
Microsoft was able to scale its CAGR by 32.1% from 1993 to 1999, which is a six-year time span and was identical to Tesla’s outlook that was challenged in the 2014 article. While Microsoft managed a remarkable 32.1% CAGR because of the evergrowing popularity of the computer and other technology, Tesla’s overwhelming growth throughout the same timespan was due to tech developments, industry influence, proving affordability of electric cars, and a consistent growth rate that proved the company was here to stay.
Spiegel’s outlook for 2020 was 186,000 cars sold by Tesla, but the company managed to nearly accomplish this figure in Q4 alone, as it delivered 180,570 cars in the final three months of the year. Spiegel was way off in his predictions, and Tesla’s domination in 2020 was just one of many examples of analysts getting it completely wrong.
Tesla wasn’t a prime candidate for scaling its products, according to Thomas Bartman
In an April 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review, Thomas Bartman wrote an opinionated piece called, “Why Tesla Won’t Be Able to Scale.” Bartman claimed that Tesla’s EVs were “not actually disruptive, which will likely cause it to struggle to scale.” Bartman didn’t have the Model 3 to use as a benchmark at the time, but he doubted that Tesla would be able to sell a vehicle for $35,000, which it did.
“Tesla plans to launch a ‘mainstream’ luxury car, the Model 3,” Bartman wrote, “which it estimates will cost $35,000, although analysts have begun to question the feasibility of reaching that price point.” Tesla did discontinue this variant in late 2020, but the Standard Range Model 3 was available for over three years. The Standard Range+ was only $2,770 more and was more popular because of the range. Also, the SR was not listed on Tesla’s website and had to be ordered in a showroom or over the phone.
Bartman believed that Tesla had launched two good vehicles in the Model S and Model X, but legacy auto would quickly catch up after a few years. However, this has been proven wrong repeatedly, as companies like Mercedes-Benz and Audi have failed to launch effective and competitive EVs that are comparable to Tesla’s models globally. The Model 3 continues to dominate in China and the U.S., and the Model Y is gaining plenty of momentum as it nears the one-year mark since its first deliveries.
“As Tesla attempts to scale, it’s likely to discover that its internal impediments, combined with competitor responses, make it much harder than anticipated,” Bartman said. “The symptoms of these problems will manifest as product launch delays, cost overruns, and higher than expected prices.”
The only issue is that Tesla was able to internally combat production issues, even though Elon Musk has admitted many times that Model 3 manufacturing was “production hell.” The company has effectively beaten all of its competitors to launching an effective and cost-worthy electric car by launching four of them.
Hindsight is 2020
With 2020 over (thank God), Tesla and analysts are already looking forward to the new year. 2021 has plenty in store for Tesla: Two production facilities in the U.S. and Europe are set to begin manufacturing efforts, the launch of the Cybertruck at the tail-end of the year, and a possible refresh of the Model S and Model X. Moving forward, Tesla shorts may be more cautious, especially considering their traumatic $38 billion loss this year.