Tesla (TSLA -1.40%) has attracted its fair share of bears, and it’s easy to see why. The company currently has a market cap of $845 billion, which is roughly equivalent to the valuation of the next 12 automakers combined. Additionally, some people see CEO Elon Musk as a liability. Tesla’s fearless leader has locked horns with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on several occasions, and he has more recently drawn the ire of Twitter and its stakeholders.
Even so, it is hard to argue with results. Last year, Tesla once again led the electric car industry in sales, and the company showcased its capacity for innovation as it adapted to supply chain challenges and semiconductor shortages more nimbly than other automakers. Of course, Tesla will almost certainly lose market share as legacy players lean into electrification, but the company has much larger ambitions.
Here are three bold statements from Elon Musk that could turn Tesla bears into bulls.
1. Tesla’s got a “strongest competitive advantage”
During the most recent earnings call, Musk reiterated his belief that manufacturing efficiency would be Tesla’s “strongest competitive advantage,” and he can back those claims with results. Thanks to highly automated production lines, as well as innovations like single-piece casting and low-cost battery cells, Tesla achieved an industry-leading operating margin of 14.6% in the third quarter of 2021, and that figure ticked up to 19.2% in Q1 2022.
Perhaps more impressive, Tesla continued to operate efficiently with one hand tied behind its back in the most recent quarter. Despite COVID-19 lockdowns in China — which resulted in a three-week closure at Gigafactory Shanghai — and the cost-intensive process of scaling new factories in Germany and Texas, Tesla still posted an operating margin of 14.6%, a figure that ranks among the highest in the industry. Better yet, the company achieved a new production record in June at both its Fremont factory and Gigafactory Shanghai, which bodes well for the remainder of the year.
Going forward, investors should look for Tesla to become even more efficient in the future. Next year, more vehicles will be outfitted with 4680 battery cells, a technology that promises to reduce battery cell production costs and capital expenditures by 56% and 69%, respectively. That’s particularly impressive since Tesla already leads the industry in terms of low-cost battery packs, which are the most expensive part of an electric car.
Additionally, Tesla should see logistics costs drop as production ramps at Gigafactory Berlin — its first production facility in Europe — because the company will no longer have to ship as many cars to the region.
2. Tesla’s most important source of profitability is FSD
Earlier this year, Musk said that full self-driving (FSD) technology “will become the most important source of profitability for Tesla.” He expressed confidence in the company’s ability to achieve full autonomy in 2022, and Tesla plans to release its FSD Beta software to all customers in North America by the end of the year. Additionally, with a robotaxi slated for production in 2024, Tesla could introduce an autonomous riding-hailing service in the not-too-distant future.
For context, investment management firm Ark Invest said it believes autonomous ride-hailing platforms could generate $2 trillion in annual profits by 2030. That estimate may be absurdly high, but if Tesla captures even a fraction of that market, it could completely change the cost structure of the company by reducing sales cyclicality and boosting margins. Put another way, FSD technology could make Tesla more of a software and service provider and less of an automaker.
Musk also noted that Tesla has more autonomous driving miles under its belt than any other company. In other words, Tesla has more data than its rivals, and data is the cornerstone of artificial intelligence, which makes the company a frontrunner in the race to build a self-driving car.
3. Tesla’s most valuable product isn’t a vehicle
In what may be Musk’s boldest claim, he recently said “Optimus ultimately will be worth more than the car business. Worth more than FSD.” For context, Optimus is an AI-powered humanoid robot first teased by Tesla at its AI Day event last year. Musk told attendees that a prototype could come in 2022, and he later mentioned that Optimus could enter production as early as 2023.
The potential impact of such a product is hard to fathom: An AI-powered robot could change the world by freeing people from dangerous, repetitive, or boring tasks. It could make home life easier by handling daily chores like cooking and cleaning, not to mention more complicated repairs and renovations. Optimus could also help businesses operate more efficiently and productively by allowing human employees to spend more time on creative endeavors.
“People will be amazed”
Of course, all of that is theoretical right now, but that may change in the near future. I’ll end with one more comment from Musk: “We’re hosting our AI Day in a few months. I think people will be amazed at what we’re able to show off.”