fredag 5. februar 2010

Tesla takes us on a wild ride

Tesla has been  throwing a few curve balls at us lately. Between the almost half-billion dollar government loans, the IPO (which contains a “no Roadsters will be built after 2011″ announcement) and now a right hand drive Roadster being announced, we have as many questions as answers.
Tesla’s IPO late last month created an instant buzz. The heady mix of electric cars, clean energy futures and lots and lots of money had most of us at VentureBeat feeling fine. A small detail, though, escaped our first glance. A few pages in to the filing you’ll read “Prior to the launch of our Model S, we anticipate our automotive sales may decline, potentially significantly as we do not plan to sell our current generation Tesla Roadster after 2011 due to planned tooling changes at a supplier for the Tesla Roadster.”
The supplier being mentioned is Lotus, which builds the Tesla’s chassis. When Lotus re-tools for a new model, the Tesla is homeless for manufacturing. The Roadster is expected to be built again though not before 2013. With the Model S slated to begin production in 2012 at the earliest, there could be a year or more without any new Teslas on the road.
Of course, after Tesla took a low interest $465 million loan from the DOE last June, Tesla is likely to survive a year without sales just fine. Tesla’s profitability is already suspect, never having posted an entire quarter in the black. Sure, a month here or there — but Tesla is still a far cry from thriving off of its vehicle sales. The company is also an active player in the parts supply business for other electric auto makers, not that Tesla manufactures many of them. Tesla’s expertise is in design and technology. It buys batteries from Panasonic, has the chassis built by Lotus. As long as Tesla is ahead of the pack in technology the company has a product to sell.
The Model S, planned for 2012, will be Tesla’s first step towards the middle class. It will likely cost $50,000 after federal incentives. If the move to a lower cost vehicle is big, the move to in-house construction is bigger. Instead of using Lotus to build the chassis, Tesla will build the Model S itself. Rumors indicate a possible coupe and crossover being introduced as well. Even if the Roadster never resurfaces, a full lineup of electric vehicles and in-house production would put Tesla in the same game as Nissan or GM, if not the same league.
Even as the Roadster is preparing to be a used-only vehicle, Tesla is introducing it as a right hand drive. The company didn’t rush this one, as it comes about a year after the first London show room. Still it appears that Tesla is looking to broaden its European and possible Australian adoption before going in to hibernation at the end of 2011.
Another guess on my part would be that Tesla is shopping for manufacturing space overseas in which to build Roadsters. After all, there has been plenty of demand for the cars even with the wheel on the “wrong” side. Whatever the exact reason for releasing the RHD Roadster just before stopping production, it can only increase Tesla’s market presence.
If you have any other ideas on where Tesla might be heading, let us know in the comments section below.

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