The Tesla SWOT analysis reveals that the biggest challenges come from competitive threats within the automotive industry.
While Tesla got a head start and still leads in terms of its digital and electric innovation, other manufacturers are catching up.
More car manufacturers are introducing electric cars and expanding their range. Many of these like Audi, BMW and Mercedes have strong brands and established operations that they can use for electric car production.
Can Tesla maintain its lead as its competitors aggressively ramp up production of electric cars?
In the SWOT analysis of Tesla, I take a look at these questions by analysing the strengths and weaknesses of Tesla as well some of the threats and opportunities it faces.
Table of Contents
What Is Tesla?
Tesla designs, develops, manufactures, leases, and sells electric vehicles, and energy generation and storage systems internationally.
Quick Facts About Tesla
Elon Musk, Martin Eberhard, JB Straubel, Marc Tarpenning, Ian Wright
Tesla’s mission statement was “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.” However, in mid-2016, under Elon Musk’s leadership, the company changed the corporate mission to “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
Many initially thought it was lunacy when ElonMusk launched Tesla and declared he was going to take on giants like Ford, General Motors, BMW and others.
Back in 2003, that was a bold decision to make at a time when there much of the technology to create a viable electric car was still in its infancy. As an example, in 2003 there were no batteries in terms of capacity and storage that would be able to create a prototype.
Fast forward to today and Elon Musk, Tesla Inc, has transformed the motor industry leaving other established players still playing catch up.
Tesla currently is expanding has a range of consumer and commercial vehicle markets, including Model 3, Model Y, Model S, Model X, Cybertruck, Tesla Semi and a new Tesla Roadster.
Model S is a four-door full-size sedan that we began delivering in June 2012. Model S introduced Tesla vehicle mainstays such as a large touchscreen driver interface, Autopilot hardware, over-the-air software updates, and fast charging through our Supercharger network.
Along with the Model X, the Model S features the highest performance characteristics and longest ranges. Both these vehicles are equipped with a standard dual-motor all-wheel-drive powertrain and are also available in Performance versions with enhanced acceleration and/or top speed and styling.
Model 3 was launched in July 2017. It is a four-door mid-size sedan that is designed for mass-market appeal. The Model 3 is produced in the US and in China at the Gigafactory Shanghai.
Model X is a mid-size SUV with seating for up to seven adults, which was launched in September 2015. Model X has unique features including falcon wing doors for easy access to passenger seating and an all-glass panoramic windshield.
Model Y is a compact sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) built on the Model 3 platform with the capability for seating for up to seven adults.
Future Consumer and Commercial Electric Vehicles
Tesla delivered to the market the first high-performance electric luxury sports car, the Tesla Roadster. The company sold approximately 2,500 Roadsters before ending production in January 2012. However, now it is decided to resurrect the concept car and has built a new Roadster which launched in 2020.
In addition, Tesla has unveiled a number of planned electric vehicles to address a broader cross-section of the vehicle market, including specialized consumer electric vehicles in Cybertruck and a commercial electric vehicle in Tesla Semi.
The Tesla Business Model draws its strength from the unique ecosystem it is building, but others are now catching up.
Tesla Strengths – Internal Factors
The Tesla SWOT analysis begins with a look at the internal strengths and capabilities of Tesla.
Tesla is an innovator continues to invest heavily in research and development. In 2019, Tesla invested $1,343 million into advancing its product and services. It already has the new Roadster sports car coming out this year as well as further product launches. But it isn’t just the products where innovation can be seen. Its new Gigafactory in China uses state of the art production facilities.
It’s worth mentioning that Elon Musk will cross-fertilize ideas and innovations from his other companies such as Space X. While there might not think there are any obvious cross over, new materials and software could well benefit Tesla.
Over 2019, if you look at Tesla’s market share of the U.S. automotive market it might seem disappointing at just over 1.3 per cent.
However, if you just look at the U.S. electric vehicle (EV) market, Tesla is the clear market leader in battery-electric car sales for the United States. In 2019, it sold over 192,250 cars while its nearest rival Chevrolet sold jus 16,418 units.
In fact, as of March 2020, Tesla has sold over 1 million vehicles.
Brand and Marketing
Tesla has become synonymous with luxury sports cars. By starting off at the luxury end of the car market, Tesla was able to craft the brand as a luxury car. Lower priced and more mass cars like the Model 3 though benefit from the halo effect of the brand
Tesla has developed a network of global partnerships which help with the R&D costs, distribution and of course charging points.
As an example, Tesla and battery maker Panasonic started working together in 2010 to develop nickel-based lithium-ion battery cells for electric vehicles.
Tesla has a whole ecosystem of charging partners such as hotels, resorts, service centres and shopping malls.
I would go so far as to say that Tesla is the Apple of the car world. I’m not comparing Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, although that might be interesting. At the heart of both companies is the attention to detail, the customer experience and the design of the products – end-to-end design.
Design means listening to customers not necessarily taking on-board everything they feedback but realising when you need to make improvements and then doing something about it. Elon Musk is famous for replying to customers on their feedback and making changes.
Elon Musk is loved by the media because he is unconventional and controversial. He creates headlines which in turn generate publicity and lots of it. Sometimes wiping as much as $15 billion off the value of Tesla but other times equally boosting it.
He has fans – lots of them – on Twitter alone he has 33M followers many of which are devoted fans – reminiscent of the same adoration that Steve Jobs attracted.
Tesla Weaknesses – Internal Factors
The Tesla SWOT analysis weaknesses section identifies the aspects of Tesla that could expose it to threats and present problems in the future.
Tesla has had problems and complaints about the standards of its manufacturing.
When you order an Audi or Mercedes you are not worried or expecting any issues with the standard of production. Most automakers have perfected the production process, adopted agile methods and match production to demand (to avoid excess inventory).
Elon Musk, on the other hand, has been know to camp out near factories to try and thrash out factory issues. As CEO, this must strain his attention from running Tesla, as well as Space X.
Tesla has a high negative P/E ratio, reflecting investors’ faith in its future earnings despite regular losses.
Tesla has also benefited from huge incentives at national and state level through to tax credits for consumers. Some have criticized this and reflected on Tesla’s inability to still turn a profit. In defence, Tesla has said it has succeeded despite these benefits, not because of them.
Tesla’s market cap reflects investors belief in its long-term success, but many remain sceptical – if you look at its market cap vs market share you could be forgiven for thinking the stocks are overpriced. However, many view these stocks as similar to other more tech-based startups that also have high valuations and high P/E ratios.
The two criticisms being levelled at Tesla over its batteries are not directly related. The first is more about ownership of a Tesla car. Accepted that batteries capacity to recharge diminishes over time which affects distances covered before a charge is needed.
The other weakness though is related to production – namely that Tesla depends on batteries which in turn depend on elements like lithium and there are only limited supplies of these.
Fun fact: Tesla became the world’s biggest battery consumer just a few years after achieving volume production of its electric vehicles.
One Man Show
Elon Musk takes centre stage – often that ‘s a good thing. However, as a large and growing multinational company, it could do with more leaders who are less distracted. The clear danger is that if you take Elon Musk out of the equation would investors feel as secure – I doubt it!
A broader set of leaders who can are visibly making decisions and making adjustments to the company can only benefit the company.
High Levels of Debt
The high levels of debt relative to sales and overall performance do not marry up with other companies in the sector. Furthermore, Tesla is a relatively young company in the car industry and has yet to secure its position across the main geographical territories.
Of particular worry is the other divisions of Tesla that are not performing least of which is the troubled SolarCity project which Tesla purchased for $2.6 billion.
At some point, the debt will need to repayment and that looks unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Lack of Capacity
Car manufacturers depend on achieving economies of scale to make profits. Tesla needs to secure and deliver car production across a broader set of geographical territories if it is to achieve scale. That means it needs to secure more production not only in China but also more in Europe.
The Tesla Model 3 is more mass-market than the Model S but it is still priced above the main volume in the car market. If Tesla is to achieve higher volumes and go head-to-head with brands like Audi and Mercedes then it needs a mid-market product.
Tesla though is relaunching the roadster a high-end sports car – although this benefit the brand it might not translate so easily into volume and profits.
The other product in new to the range is the Cybertruck and a commercial truck is also planned. If you make the analogy to BMW or Audi, then they have a consistent range of cars that are volume sellers and appeal to different market segments.
Tesla Opportunities – External Factors
Tesla has factories in Freemont, US; Tilburg, Netherlands, Berlin, Germany and Shanghai, China.
The factory in Germany is set to open in 2021 and will produce the Model 3 range of cars
The mid-market car sector is critical for volume and also the fleet car sales.
Tesla can exploit its base to produce lower priced mid-market cars that drive higher volume and adoption rates.
Battery Production In-house
Tesla can change from using Panasonic to make its batteries to making its own.
This could open up new revenue opportunities by suppliers other car makes.
This would alleviate problems with supply and help the company to increase its production rates.
Tesla could expand its charge point infrastructure either through further partnerships or even acquisitions.
this could provide useful protection against competitors and provide further data as well as revenue from the infrastructure e.g. offer Tesla car owners beneficial charge rates but charge competitors a percentage commission for using the infrastructure.
Corporates are increasingly having to account for their global carbon footprint as well as develop more sustainable solutions.
Although many corporates have a corporate statement, they have yet to translate these into action when it comes to var fleets. However, there is growing demand from shareholders for greater transparency and more action.
Tesla is well placed to become a suitable car choice for fleet cars if it can produce a broader range that will fit to the budgets for mid-management.
The growing urgency of various governments to accelerate their policies towards a cleaner environment has increased the demand for zero-emission vehicles. Developed nations such as the US, Germany, and the UK are promoting the use of electric vehicles to reduce emissions, which has resulted in the growth of electric vehicle sales.
This trend though could accelerate as other nations also adopt policies and offer incentives to customers.
Tesla Threats – External Factors
The giants in the automotive industry might have underestimated Tesla, but they have now woken up and are investing heavily in electric and digital technologies
It’s important to recognise their size and presence, particularly in the US market which is probably the most competitive market for Tesla
The big players still have a considerable amount of market share, the capital to invest heavily in electric and digital technologies
As an example, General Motors is investing $20 billion into autonomous vehicles – that’s roughly 15x Tesla’s R&D budget
Product Liability Claims
Despite Tesla’s premium quality assurance, it is facing significant product liability claims which could lead to a big financial penalty.
Tesla has launched many autopilot vehicles, and not all of them have been successful. The company has faced lawsuits and claims related to the failure of technology including cars set on fire. If these liability claims continue, then Tesla may be subjected to greater financial setbacks.
Even in China Tesla has a long way to to go to catch to the same volumes as to its competitors.
The coming years will be a test of how well Tesla performs in this crucial market.
As cities get more congested new regulations and policies could change and lead to more dramatic shifts in how we tackle pollution and congestion problems. More cities may ban cars and force the use of public transport systems.
the sharing economy has grown and become a growing trend, particularly among younger generations. With the high cost of living in cities and the trend towards city living, sharing vehicles might be the new normal.
Luxury cars might not fit into this model though.
Lack of Critical Materials
Tesla uses lithium-ion cells in their battery packs but global demands increasing as other car manufacturers ramp up their electric vehicle production.
Tesla could face disruptions in the supply of these vital raw materials due to the increased prices as well as in other vital elements needed for batteries e.g. nickel, copper, and cobalt. All these materials could affect the company’s production line severely in the future.
Currently, there are no regulations for self-driving vehicles in the majority of countries, including the US. Tesla’s though is continually pursuing this as part of its overall strategy, in other words as a competitive edge. However, by the time regulations come into play to allow autonomous vehicles others car producers could have the same or similar technology.
Tesla SWOT Analysis Summary
The Tesla SWOT analysis shows that the biggest threat comes from competitors. Tesla’s competitors ready have strong infrastructure, distribution and models that they can transform to electric. This would secure sales and limit Tesla’s growth.
Tesla has built a strong brand and continues to innovate and that could result in a future where Tesla becomes a household name for a long time to come.