A Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) bear’s arguments about the impending arrival of competitors in the electric car market was boldly shut down in a recent segment on CNBC’s Squawk Box. During the exchange, veteran journalist Phil LeBeau aired what could only be described as a longtime sentiment from Tesla investors: After all those predictions, where are Tesla’s supposed competitors?
The Squawk Box segment featured Tasha Keeney of Ark Invest and Craig Irwin of Roth Capital Partners, each one representing the bull and bear side for TSLA stock. While Keeney reiterated ARK’s optimistic stance on Tesla and its potential in the full self-driving market, Irwin instead focused on what he alleged was the electric car maker’s disadvantage in battery technology. The Tesla bear insisted that Tesla is currently paying $240/kWh for its cells from Japan while Porsche and Volkswagen are paying $250/kWh. This was a point that Phil LeBeau directly addressed, citing the findings of Sam Jaffe from Cairn Energy Research, who estimated that Tesla has reached costs of around $116 per kWh for its battery cells.
The Roth Capital Partners analyst added that he is taking a bearish stance against Tesla now due to the incoming wave of competitors that are coming to the market. Irwin specifically pointed to the Porsche Taycan as one of these vehicles.
“It’s starting this year. That’s why I chose to initiate with a bearish perspective. Porsche is going to come on with the Taycan, you’ve got Kia, you’ve got the I-PACE… You got to look at the history, so the Cayenne, the first thing they said 10, then they said 20, then it became 40. So it ramped very very quickly. They set expectations low, make a lot of money on the front end, and ramp. Porsche, their business is making money. They’re not about, you know, fluffing numbers. So if they think they can sell 30,000 cars into the market over the next 18 months and make a great profit on it, they’ll do it. But they’re not gonna flood the market to a point you know, it compresses margins,” Irwin claimed.
Irwin’s thesis was immediately met by a rebuttal from LeBeau, who noted that the argument for Tesla competitors has been going on for a long time. The CNBC journalist argued that it is better for other carmakers to start showing (not just telling) how they can actually compete with Tesla by releasing a real, compelling electric vehicle.
“I think it poses a problem for Tesla from the standpoint of ‘Let’s finally see this vehicle.’ I honestly believe based on Tesla owners that I’ve talked with as well as those who track the company, we’re tired of hearing ‘the competitors are coming, the competitors are coming.’ Bring it out. Bring it out, and if Porsche’s Taycan is as impressive as the initial indications are, then it will be a threat to Tesla, but until then, this is a little bit like The Boy (Who) Cried Wolf. We hear it all the time. ‘There’s a wave of vehicles coming.’ Well, that wave of vehicles isn’t here yet. It was supposed to be here by 2019. It’s not here yet. When does it get here? If I’m a Tesla investor, I’m not too worried about this argument until we start to see these vehicles,” LeBeau retorted.
Phil LeBeau was actually being quite generous when he noted that the Porsche Taycan will be a threat to Tesla. Porsche is a niche carmaker, and it is a company that prioritizes the exclusivity of its vehicles. At most, the Taycan will eat into the Model S’ sales since they compete in the same segment. The German-made all-electric car from Porsche will not compete in the same mass-market segment as the Model 3, or the Model Y for that matter.
One thing that Tesla skeptics always seem to forget is that electric vehicles from other carmakers will not kill or overwhelm Tesla. Instead, they are vehicles that contribute to the mission of the electric car maker, which is to encourage the world to shift away from the internal combustion engine. Thus, every Taycan and I-PACE that is sold is not a lost sale for Tesla; it is a lost sale for gas and diesel-powered vehicles.
Watch the recent TSLA bull vs. bear debate in CNBC’s Squawk Box in the video below.
Disclosure: I have no ownership in shares of TSLA and have no plans to initiate any positions within 72 hours.