Elon Musk’s quarterly earnings reports for Tesla Motors always offer a little razzle, a little dazzle, soon-to-be-unfulfilled promises, and rationalized failures.
This go-round was no exception, and after yet another shortfall of financial and vehicle delivery expectations, perhaps the biggest surprise was the revelation that $1.3 billion in subsidies from Nevada taxpayers won’t be enough to get the hyped Gigafactory completed.
As it continues to defy common sense and the laws of economics with its lofty stock price, Tesla has again shown it has little corporate competence in the ability to deliver a consistently functional product that satisfies customers.
The latest evidence comes in the recently rolled out Model X, which is allegedly an SUV, but looks like just another car. Retailing at a price only the extremely wealthy can afford ($138,000), the all-electric follow-up to the similarly troubled Model S automobile has stumbled out of the gate. The problems were outlined in a Consumer Reports article posted online Tuesday, which spurred a number of similar follow-up stories in other media, and temporarily caused Tesla’s stock to dip. Long-time followers of the company know that is only a temporary condition, however.
Wall Street, media and government darling Tesla Motors has seen its stock price nearly halved from seven months ago. For so long it has seemed that ongoing bad news never had an effect on the heavily subsidized upstart, but now perhaps the Teflon is eroding off CEO Elon Musk.
The precipitous, rapid descent preceded last week’s horrid earnings report. USA Today helped smear lipstick on the pig, cheerily noting shares rose “14 percent at one point” after its earnings “miss” on Wednesday, because Musk delivered investors a "rosy outlook for the rest of 2016." This was in context of what the newspaper characterized as a “whopping loss” that “badly missed estimates.”
Oh, sure, after another dismal performance (operating loss of $47 million) for Tesla Motors during the most recent quarter, its stock price took an immediate dive of 9-10 percent. But while that merely returned the electric automaker back to irrational exuberance territory – as compared to the drunken sailor highs it has enjoyed in recent months – it didn’t take long for some market analyst to restore the inflation.
So he went about trying to fix things on CNBC and with the Times on Monday, but not by denying the conclusions reached by reporter Jerry Hirsch, but instead by essentially pointing at fossil fuel industries and saying “they do it more.”
The total amount calculated by reporter Jerry Hirsch for taxpayer-backed incentives – of many different forms, including tax credits and rebates provided to customers – was $4.9 billion. The corporate beneficiaries have been Tesla Motors and SpaceX, where Musk is CEO, and SolarCity Corp., where he is chairman. The sum does not include SpaceX’s contracts with the government to carry out programs for NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
But despite that legislatively unanimous award from three months ago, and a stock price that has flown high for most of the year, there are signs that the shine over the luxury electric automaker is beginning to dull.
Perhaps the most noteworthy skepticism has arisen from popular automotive Web site Jalopnik, which otherwise has been a fairly reliable (but not robotically so) cheerleader for Tesla. An end-of-year article written by blogger Damon Lavrinc recounts the automaker’s legacy of non-fulfillment and asks, “What will Tesla and Elon Musk over-promise next?”