Investor's Corner

The ‘Tesla Effect’ is starting to extend from legacy carmakers to the oil industry

Back in February, self-made billionaire Don Gao from China mentioned that the “Tesla Effect” continues to grow even in markets beyond the California-based company’s reach. Gao, who owns Positec – a maker of power equipment – uses lithium-ion batteries for his company’s products, and they are steadily becoming a potent rival for heavyweight brands like Black & Decker. The billionaire entrepreneur noted that Tesla’s commitment to battery tech is spilling over into other industries, to the point where consumers’ perception of battery-powered devices is now changing. 

“This Tesla Effect is a major trend and has really changed consumers’ perception of things that are battery driven and their capabilities,” he said.

Tesla did not come up with the electric car, nor did it come up with lithium-ion batteries. Both technologies were present even before the company was founded. That said, and partly thanks to the unraveling of Elon Musk’s first Master Plan, Tesla was able to capture an audience and a dedicated consumer base with its first vehicle – the Tesla Roadster. The small sports car was mostly a proof-of-concept, in the way that it was intended to show that electric cars need not be boring or limited in range. The car was successful enough that Tesla was able to follow it up with the Model S, a vehicle designed from the ground up to be a high-performance, long-range electric car. The rest is history. 

Tesla’s electric cars were able to capture the interest of car buyers, even those that are particular about power and performance. It should be noted that Tesla’s electric cars were showing strong sales even before the company rolled out features like Autopilot. The company’s electric vehicles, from the Model S, to the Model X, to the Model 3, were desirable simply because they were excellent cars. They just happen to be powered by electricity instead of gas.

Tesla’s Sparks, Nevada Gigafactory seen in April 2018. (Tesla)

Since Tesla is still in the process of growing, its electric cars have been competing in the luxury segment. The electric vehicles themselves are not traditional luxury cars, with their minimalistic and almost spartan interiors, but they do provide a premium experience through their deep integration of software and hardware. Over the years, Tesla’s electric cars sold well, until such time that they started outselling mainstays from legacy carmakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Tesla Model 3, the company’s first attempt at a mass-market car, was recently listed as the 4th best-selling passenger car in the US, beating out competitors from the luxury midsize segment like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

In the same way that companies unrelated to Tesla are starting to explore the potential of lithium-ion batteries partly due to the electric car maker, a number of legacy automakers have accelerated their transition to electrified transport as well. Among the German carmakers, several have expressed their intent to come up with their own premium electric vehicles. Mercedes-Benz has the EQ program, Volkswagen just announced that it is investing ~$7 billion into e-mobility, and Porsche has the Taycan, a high-performance electric car that’s set to meet the Model S head-on in the premium EV market. Most of these carmakers would likely not acknowledge it, but there is little doubt that the transition to electrified transport was expedited by the efforts of a small electric car startup from Silicon Valley.

In a way, the Tesla Effect is happening at the perfect time. Several regions in the world are shifting towards cleaner forms of transportation. China plans to eventually ban diesel and gasoline-powered cars in its major cities. France and Britain have both committed to banning gas-powered automobiles in the future as well. Earlier this month, the EU Parliament voted for a 20% cut in CO2 emissions from new cars and vans in 2025 and a 40% reduction in 2030, accelerating the region’s transition towards cleaner transport. To effectively support the transition, carmakers, from startups like Tesla to pedigreed veterans like Mercedes-Benz, have to ramp their efforts at creating even more compelling, cost-effective electric vehicles.

Tesla delivery push as Q3 comes to an end. [Credit: @Harbles/Twitter]

In a recent segment on CNBC, Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities mentioned that the “Tesla Effect” is starting to make its way to the oil industry as well. Last Thursday, oil prices tumbled as much as 4% amidst concerns about the fallout from the United States’ sanctions on Iran, the OPEC’s third-biggest crude oil producer. Wall St. analysts noted that oil could be in striking distance of $100 per barrel – an adjustment that would be felt by owners of fossil fuel-powered cars. The Mizuho analyst noted that part of the reasons behind the struggles of the oil industry is the shifting perception towards oil itself.

“Essentially, the big issue is the so-called “Tesla Effect,” the general “End of the Oil Age” theme that is a problem for these (oil) stocks. As the oil price goes up, especially to the levels we’re at now and potentially beyond, it’s almost as if the Tesla Effect could be exacerbated by the potential for higher oil prices to accelerate the end of the Oil Age. The Tesla Effect is the overall concept that (while) the 20th century was driven by oil, the 21st century will be driven by electricity. There’s a 30-year transition, and we’re somewhere probably 10 years into that transition. Ultimately, (the) terminal value of oil has been severely affected by the potential for us to change behavior,” the analyst said.

What is quite remarkable is that Tesla is nowhere close to reaching the company’s overall goals. Elon Musk once noted that Tesla would not stop until all cars in the road are electric. And the truth is, even if the company reaches its production targets for the Model 3 and the Model Y and its future Truck and compact sedan, Tesla would not be able to transition the auto industry towards electrification on its own. What Tesla could do, though, is to accelerate this transition, and if recent projects by legacy carmakers are any indication, it appears that the Silicon Valley-based company is doing just that.

The ‘Tesla Effect’ is starting to extend from legacy carmakers to the oil industry
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