How much further can Tesla go?

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tesla modelTesla is now firmly established as the world’s most valuable car maker, hovering, just after its record third-quarter profit announcement, around $850 billion (AUD$1.12 billion), which is hundreds of billions more than Toyota or Volkswagen.

Its results – 241,300 cars delivered (up 72% on last year), AUD$2.91 billion net profit (389% up year on year) – did little for its share price, but, notably, it barely moved; investors seem satisfied that the growth path justifies the valuation, which has grown more than 18% over this most difficult of years. There’s more to come.

The reaction to the Model Y in recent weeks talks to both the impending sales growth and the longer term potential of its brand appeal; for specialists and wider media alike, Tesla is a box office, and that draw will only accelerate as a new generation of enthusiasts can afford the cars.

The new factory in Shanghai is hitting its stride and supplying markets worldwide, and two more are set to open, in Berlin and Texas. More investment is rumoured, for facilities in Japan, Korea, India and the UK.

Scale brings advantages, too. Average sales prices fell 6% in the past quarter, in part because Tesla is set on using efficiencies to make its entry-level vehicles more accessible. Where you might have expected it tohold its nerve and sit tight at the high-ticket end of the market, Tesla in fact looks happy to edge further into the mainstream.

Talismanic boss Elon Musk has hinted at the development of a US$25,000 (AUD$33,000) car. His version of facts can sometimes be open to interpretation, but that does hint at an ambition to take on all comers, although it’s possible it’s an attempt to distract as the likes of VW and Ford get serious about EVs. For a traditional car maker to have that much brand stretch would be fanciful, but Tesla is capable of rewriting the rules.

For now, little is off limits: there’s the new, albeit indefinitely delayed, Cybertruck, an all-new Roadster and the Semi truck on the product plan.

Tesla’s foray into Bitcoin looks risky, and income from selling regulatory credits to polluting rivals is dropping off, but it hopes to license its software to other car makers, especially around its controversially – many argue dangerously – named ‘full self-driving package’.

Having gained its leadership position, it won’t be losing it for a lack of ambition. The process of holding Tesla and Musk to account is important given the scale of the hype. But those who doubted Tesla’s long-term capability must continue to re-evaluate where we believed lines existed and how far they can be pushed.

Jim Holder

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