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Investor's Corner

Is it time for Tesla to partner up with another automaker? I think so.

Tesla’s Elon Musk and Toyota’s Akio Toyoda shaking hands in Palo Alto, CA cir. 2010. [Credit: Associated Press]

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Tesla’s stock has continued to slide over the last month, and not for one particular reason. The company has, by far, the best electric vehicles in the world, with the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 leading their segments by miles. Despite this, investors believe that the company is under immense pressure.

Elon Musk hasn’t really gotten the message. He’s plowing ahead with the multi-billion dollar Gigafactory in China, aggressively expanding the Model 3 to new countries, and doubling down on commitments to the super-delayed (but incredible) solar roof. Most other executives would throttle back expansion, allowing the company to widen profits and make investors happy. Musk isn’t like most executives (if you didn’t know that already?). He ignores the idea of ‘corporate strategy,’ and is far more interested in pushing the limit on what is possible. But, with over 40,000 employees and annualized production nearing 400,000 units, the company is entering a period in time in which long-term strategic planning would add tremendous value.

Time to deploy some strategery.

Let’s start with the Model Y. Or I should say, let’s begin with Tesla’s most important vehicle. The SUV market is exploding, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. The global SUV market grew from 9.8M units in 2013 to an estimated 23.8M units in 2020. That’s nearly 14% annualized growth over the last seven years. While Tesla has the Model X, it’s priced well above the average consumer’s budget and targets the highest-end of the market.

On the other hand, the Model Y is poised to enter the hottest market in the world: mid-sized crossovers. With world-class technology and an affordable price, it is certainly going to be Tesla’s most popular vehicle. To meet demand, Tesla is going to need to scale production faster and more efficiently than ever before. The only problem? Tesla is already busting out of their massive Fremont facility, and their new facility in China will likely only feed the Asian market (remember the last Chinese-built car you saw on US or European roads? Me neither).

So what does the company do? Build a car in the Gigafactory? Expand Fremont further? Both options aren’t cheap or super fast. Well, let’s jump back to that point I made about long-term corporate strategy. Tesla is at a point where it can’t afford (without raising more cash) to start construction on another US or European factory, the company is already building a Chinese factory to meet existing demand is near cash-strapped. So what should they do? It’s time to partner up with another automaker, specifically Fiat Chrysler.

An Unlikely Marriage.

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is one of the only automakers holding out on large investments into EV technology, GM is betting big and VW is betting even bigger. With Tesla’s cutting edge motor and battery technology, FCA could leap ahead of their rivals and electrify their fleet. First, the company could start by underpinning a vehicle -platform with Tesla’s powertrain, bringing more scale to Tesla battery operations and forgoing the multi-billion dollar expansion into the technology. Automakers have done these sort of partnerships for years. FCA already shares some diesel engines with GM, Daimler has borrowed VW engines, and most recently Toyota is borrowing a BMW engine for the iconic Supra.

(Photos: Tesla, Ram; Graphic: Christian Prenzler)

So what’s in it for Tesla? Let’s start with the main stage: cash. Musk isn’t interested in slowing down his global expansion, and he shouldn’t be. The company has tremendous demand and is on the cusp of launching several new products: Model Y, Semi, Roadster, and the Solar Roof. A large infusion of cash would allow the company to continue pushing the pedal to the metal. FCA has over $12B in cash, so the company could invest several billion dollars into Tesla. Outside of cash, FCA can lend some much-needed expertise in manufacturing and even some production capacity at one of the company’s two-dozen factories in North America.

I get it, teaming up with FCA doesn’t sound S3XY. But by teaming up with one of the largest automakers, Tesla gains a leg up in manufacturing and an infusion of cash that would allow Musk to continue investing heavily in expansion. What did you think of Tesla partnering with FCA?

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Disclaimer: This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Teslarati and its owners. Christian Prenzler does not have a position in Tesla Inc. or any of its competitors and does not have plans to do so in the next 30 days.

Is it time for Tesla to partner up with another automaker? I think so.
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