Last week electric car maker Tesla (s TSLA) hit the goal of delivering its first profitable quarter in the history of the decade-old company, and since then Tesla’s stock has soared and traded at over $90 per share. At the same time, review giant Consumer Reports said last week that Tesla’s Model S outscored “every other car in our test ratings.” That’s every other car out there, not just other electric cars.
What followed those milestones has been an interesting mix of attention on Tesla from the media and bloggers — including surprise, extreme 180-degree about-face, and a general lovefest — as well as attention from Wall Street, which bifurcated into newly won-over Tesla-believers and disturbed Tesla shorters. What most of these people fail to realize is that the road to true innovation in the auto industry takes a very long time.
On the blogging front, for example, in a Business Insider post on Wednesday called What Everyone Got Wrong About Tesla, a writer chronicles the criticism of Tesla over the years. The writer didn’t include my least favorite article from all of 2013 written on Tesla, by Henry Blodget, editor-in-chief of Business Insider, called “The Tesla Nightmare Shows Why Today’s All-Electric Cars Are (Basically) Dead On Arrival.”
It’s not that electric cars won’t struggle (see my long investigative piece on Fisker), but that many people just don’t get how the ecosystem, technology, and marketplace work and are so quick to make declarations about electric cars for the sole purpose of getting attention and — if you’re a blogger — page views. Tesla has actually emerged as a success story, not in the last week, but gradually over a decade by overcoming hurdles every day.
Another company took a very long time to twist and turn, and finally come out on top, too: Apple. And some of Tesla’s most gushy recent love-fest posts are about its comparison to the design-centric gadget maker: Tesla is the new Apple, Would Apple really buy Tesla? (no), and Elon Musk is the new Steve Jobs. Like the legions of Apple and Jobs fanboys, Tesla and Musk are now on the way to developing their own fanboys that will track their every move and product.
When it comes to investors, short interest (the amount of shares that investors have sold short, expecting the stock to drop in price) in Tesla since the company went public in 2010 has been nothing short of remarkable. According to Bloomberg, “short interest in Tesla was 40 percent of available shares as recently as April 19, more than 11 times the average of companies in the Russell 1000.”
But following Tesla’s milestone’s last week, short interest dropped by 17 percent in the five days through May 13, noted Bloomberg — Tesla shorters were forced to “buy $276 million worth of the automaker’s shares, pushing the company toward the biggest rally in the Russell 1000 Index (RIY) this year.”
I don’t remember a company in recent years, other than maybe Apple, that has had such massive skepticism from media and investors, followed by such intense love. This week there’s Apple-style product rumors buzzing about Tesla showing off a self-driving Model S, and launching a battery-swapping service (that would actually be cool). Usually it’s the love-hate relationship unfolds the other way around. The internet is a weird place.
Tesla actually made it past its most recent dangerous startup phase over half a year ago. Back in November 2012 Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla had “made it through the Valley of Death,” and reached its goals for scaling up Model S production.
Musk might be a media and stock puppeteer (see the 5 lessons from the NYT, Tesla dust up) but as a leader of a public company it’s not in his best interest to publicly lie. Tesla was clearly on its way to success back then — after nine years of overcoming hurdles. The earnings and stock are just a delayed sign of that performance. And before that Musk made it through the darker periods of the company in 2008, by personally floating the company and even borrowing money from friends.
The reality is that Tesla has just started on its full court press on announcements, media coverage, and stock growth, and is hoping for a marketcap that rivals the big auto companies. These are 10 milestones that Tesla hopes will enable it to hit a $43 billion marketcap.
Tesla will also no doubt hit some hurdles as it tries to transition into a larger auto maker — if anyone remembers it delayed its Model X launch by a year to the end of 2014. But it’s actually pretty hard to be an independent new automaker, and true game-changing innovation is even harder and takes a very long time.