Tesla has missed its own self-imposed deadlines more than 20 times and 10 major goals by a year on average according to the Wall Street Journal.
It’s an aggressive piece of journalism that feels like it has an axe to grind, as it goes after Tesla and the worst it can seem to come up with is that the company sets insane deadlines and sometimes can’t live with its own breakneck pace. It feels like the WSJ has wilfully missed the point.
The paper of record was clearly pointing at Tesla’s assertion that it would deliver 17,000 cars in Q2. The Fremont company missed that deadline and delivered 14,370 cars. Elon Musk said that cars were on trucks and ships at the end of June, but not in the customer’s hands.
It’s not a new accusation. Tesla is such an ambitious company that delays and production realities getting in the way of aggressive expansion are inevitable. Tesla is also a proud dictatorship with a vocal leader, so it’s no real surprise that he sets deadlines on the fly that the company then has to scramble to try and meet.
Missed deadlines are part of the Tesla culture
The company is famous for missing deadlines for that very reason and it has even become a part of Tesla’s unique corporate culture. Wall Street struggles to comprehend that strategy, though, and is used to a more conservative outlook where every missed deadline is a sign of trouble.
A litany of missed deadlines could be a problem, but Tesla is still growing faster than Ford and GM, which is surely the most important part of the whole equation for investors and the wider world.
The Palo Alto company is now worth $34 billion in terms of stock market value and its shares are up by 760% in the past five years compared to 65% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
But what about those missed deadlines?
“I have never set a goal which I know is unrealistic, unless I have specifically said I know it’s unrealistic,” said Musk. “But to have a good outcome, we must strive for a great outcome.”
That does fly in the face of a more insightful quote during an interview with Bloomberg News, when he spoke specifically about the ambitious plan to launch the Model 3 mid-way through 2017.
“Now, will we actually be able to achieve volume production on July 1 next year? Of course not. In order for us to be confident of achieving volume production of Model 3 by late 2017, we actually have to set a date of mid-2017 and really hold people’s feet to the fire, internally and externally,” Elon Musk.
Tesla could attract the Securities and Exchange Commission
The WSJ points out that Musk’s unique approach puts him in harm’s way with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The rules are quite specific and if a company offers projections and targets that it simply has no intention of hitting then eventually the commission will get involved.
“When you make a projection, you need a reasonable basis to believe in the validity of the projection,” said former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt.
The Model X was almost two years late and the Model 3 has hurt the timescale like no other. It was originally scheduled for the end of 2014 and will finally surface in late Q4 next year.
“The targets they put out for production are ridiculously aggressive,” said Colin Langan of UBS Investment Research.
Making cars is hard
The car industry is a complex beast, though, and like others Tesla found that quality control issues arose when he ramped up the production. There were issues with the Model S and problems with the innovative falcon doors on the Model X SUV meant the company simply couldn’t release the car on time.
Musk admitted to “hubris” and the fact that the company tried to install too much technology, with too little time. He also insisted on details that caused inordinate hold-ups and led to people losing their jobs. Simple moldings were a serious cause of concern at one point and they played a significant part in the delays.
No let up in the ambition
The Model 3 is a massive venture, too. Tesla is tooling up the Fremont facility, but this is mass production and there will inevitably be snags along the way. Tesla has also slashed the production schedule adopted by the rest of the industry.
While other marques generally operate on a two-year window once the engineering has been signed off, Tesla is working on half that schedule. Musk said: “It is really short. It will be like a world record.”
If anybody has doubts, he has some simple advice. “Obviously they shouldn’t buy the stock,” he said.
The counterpoint is powerful
But people are buying and Musk’s particular brand of optimistic evangelism has brought him a cult following on Wall Street. “This guy wants to save the world,” said Ron Baron, founder of asset manager Baron Capital Group Inc.
His company has a $300 million stake in Tesla and so has more than a vested interest. He also has more of a right to be nervous than the financial analysts that spend their days picking apart Tesla’s every move.
He isn’t, at all. “The odds are very favorable that we are going to make a lot of money on this investment,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal piece simply does not show the magnitude of the task that Tesla has taken on and it doesn’t read like particularly balanced journalism. It raises some interesting points, but the TL;DR version is that Musk sets some insane targets and has delivered on each and every one of his preposterous promises.
His timing has been a little off. But, as they say, better late than never.