Supply is no longer Tesla’s problem

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Last quarter, Tesla produced more cars than it sold – has its supply finally outstripped demand?

A distracted CEO, plummeting stock values, a raft of fines and investigations relating to performance claims, and parts and delivery issues. Yet potentially none of these things is the biggest issue facing Tesla as it heads into 2023.

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Yes, Elon Musk’s purchase of and subsequent distraction by Twitter is an ongoing issue. How much capacity can one man have for running mega-businesses, and how much damage will he do to his other brands as he uses his own platform to expose his version of a functioning and fair media outlet? Certainly some customers’ loyalty is being tested.

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So too Tesla’s share price fell a staggering 65 per cent last year, in the process making Musk the first man to have lost $2bn (AUD$2.85bn) in wealth – and losing him the title of world’s richest person.

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Some are calling it a correction, a result of the markets finally seeing through some of the stardust and more accurately pricing Tesla according to its potential, but some worry that without that stardust, the firm’s momentum will falter.

Regulatory wrist-slaps are nothing new for Tesla, but they’re gathering pace. Most recently, it was landed with a $3.15 million fine in Korea for overstating range in low temperatures, but the queue of investigations into everything from what defines self-driving through to the charging speed of its Superchargers is mounting.

Parts shortages and logistical issues are hardly unique in the car industry at present, but Tesla’s most recent set of quarterly results were nevertheless a disappointment. Where it had seemingly been able to ride out many of the issues facing the wider industry (something for which it deserves enormous credit), it finally ran out of room.

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Producing 1.3 million EVs (up 40 per cent year on year) continued its remarkable run in many regards but fell short of projections.

However, within last quarter’s results is a potentially far bigger crisis. Tesla produced about 34,000 more cars than it delivered. It blamed Covid and logistical issues, but could it be that the company has finally reached the point where supply is greater than demand? Certainly some of the discounts it’s offering through its Chinese online stores suggest so.

Having more production capacity than customers is a first for Tesla, and likely to be magnified as the global recession grips harder and buyers become more keenly aware of the more toxic associations sticking to the brand.

Tesla’s achievements to date are remarkable, but what if its momentum really is facing reality? Only fools bet against Musk and Tesla, but even given its colourful history, this could be its biggest setback yet.

Discounting hints at desperation (in one key market at least), but as a firm that has famously never had to do marketing or much PR, Tesla finds itself with remarkably little weaponry in its armoury to stimulate demand.

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