Investor's Corner

Wall Street enthusiasm about Tesla’s future prospects continues to climb, with comparison to Ford striking

Tesla’s market cap of $43 billion is 88% of Ford’s $49 billion. What’s happening here?

Is it that Tesla’s technology and innovation advantage has finally clicked with investors? Or it is that Ford is too late to the electric vehicle (EV) game to be a viable player?

Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) is on the brink of introducing self-driving vehicles to the mass public. This is in addition to a decade of R&D around EVs. Tesla has made decisions that haven’t translated immediately from architect’s design to production (think Model X gull wings), but years of manufacturing have also allowed Tesla to demonstrate a proven track record of EV performance, reliability, and safety. Oh, yeah. And then there’s customer satisfaction rates, which are at about as high a level as they can be. Consumer Reports’ 2016 Annual Owner Satisfaction Survey ranked Tesla in the top spot, with 91% of owners saying they would buy a Tesla again, given the chance.

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), on the other hand, is largely dependent on its legacy business of gasoline-powered, human-driven vehicles. Its 2016 production rate exceeded 6.6 million cars, while Tesla’s reached only about 83,000 last year. Tesla’s wildest production dreams in two years is unlikely to go much over 500,000 units.

Many investors argue that Tesla stock is overvalued, and, with any entrepreneurial business, early successes can be fleeting. Nonetheless, Tesla’s stock price is consistent today with levels from August 2014 and June 2015 with market cap level considered “resilient.” Indeed, as 2017 began, Tesla stocks had accrued a number of positive analyst reports and had continued to rise since the 2016 presidential election.

From 2015 – 2017, Ford’s stock price fell 23% to $12.50 during a period in which the S&P 500 rose 11%.

In what is an attempt to imprint a veneer of expertise onto an acknowledged production gap, Ford recently announced it’s investing $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, a startup run by Carnegie Mellon robotics engineers who can fill in Ford’s artificial intelligence gap. “With Argo AI’s agility and Ford’s scale, we’re combining the benefits of a technology startup with the experience and discipline we have at Ford,” says Ford CEO Mark Fields. While Ford now has an entry in the race to build self-driving cars, has the endeavor come too late? The field is quite crowded, with numerous various partnerships, pilot programs, and incubators now taking shape among tech companies, computer mapping companies, and automakers.

And Tesla continues to lead the pack. Although Ford has declared it will build autonomous cars for ride sharing at significant levels, with about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, it may not be enough to catch Tesla. With the Tesla Model X cited as 2016’s “most significant vehicle”, the chase may be too long and too exhausting for Ford. And stock futures are reflecting this struggle.

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