Tesla’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) growth story has leaned on the potential of autonomous, self-driving vehicles revolutionizing the way everyday transportation is performed. While Tesla has developed its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving suites with relative success in the past several years, Morgan Stanley analysts are not convinced that autonomous driving programs will continue to fuel the automaker’s growth story and continuing expansion. Instead, Tesla’s bread and butter, which is vehicle manufacturing, along with other strengths like material sourcing, supply chain, and infrastructure development, is where the financial firm is putting its money.
It is no secret Tesla has fallen short with its FSD and Robotaxi plans, as CEO Elon Musk has predicted since 2018 that the automaker would complete its venture into fully-autonomous vehicles. However, each year has gone by with a new set of challenges, whether they would be based on manufacturing or the supply of necessary parts, further delaying the rollout of a “feature complete” FSD suite or a rollout of the planned Robotaxi fleet. This has led to some skepticism about whether the electric car company will really continue its monumental pace of growth through that medium, and not another, which Tesla has already proven to be well-versed in: manufacturing.
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A new note to investors from Adam Jonas and other analysts at Morgan Stanley seems to indicate the latter, that Tesla’s true road to continuing expansion and increased valuations is a focus on what it does best. For the past several years, Tesla has focused intently on increasing manufacturing efficiency and accuracy, and it has ultimately led to a streak of nine consecutive quarters of growth in vehicle deliveries. While that streak may be in jeopardy due to the shutdowns of its most-productive factory, which is in Shanghai, there is still evidence to suggest that Tesla’s best way to continue growing is through its production prowess.
“With respect to Tesla, we think attributes like AI, autonomous, and EV are fully, if not over-appreciated here,” the analysts wrote in their note. “In fact, we believe Tesla’s more ‘gritty’ capabilities in terms of manufacturing, material sourcing, supply chain, and infrastructure will drive the next leg of growth to the story.”
Tesla will trade with increased volatility in the coming weeks and months, Morgan Stanley predicted in the new note. The company’s focus on its autonomy may be dragging down expectations for the stock, as Tesla continues to push its belief that FSD and Level 4 to Level 5 autonomy will be arriving by the end of the year. The analysts see this as a major issue in Tesla’s outlook moving forward:
“Firstly, we think the core auto margin is too high at this point, as it does not fully reflect input cost inflation. Secondly, we believe expectations of full autonomy or FSD ‘flipping’ into a major near-term margin boost are overestimated. In fact, we believe L4/L5 autonomy at scale is well over a decade away. It will come folks, but it’s too darn difficult.”
In reality, Tesla has made major strides in its FSD program through the Beta fleet, and Autopilot is coming off of one of its safest years in history when compared to nationwide accident data from the NHTSA. But whether Tesla will solve full autonomy by the end of the year as Musk expects truly remains to be seen.
Musk remains confident with Tesla’s development of FSD and said earlier this year that he would be “shocked” if the company cannot effectively develop major improvements and complete the suite by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, Tesla’s Robotaxi fleet will likely come with a dedicated vehicle design in the coming years, based on predictions from company executives during its most recent earnings call. While Tesla’s outlook on Robotaxis was previously about owners making money from the operation of the ride-sharing service, the automaker has shifted to another perspective, which aligns more with its focus on sustainability. Read more about that here.
Jonas still holds a $1,300 price target on Tesla stock with an ‘Overweight’ rating.
Disclosure: Joey Klender is a TSLA Shareholder.
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