The goal of this series is to examine current topics being written about Tesla [TSLA] that appear to be stirring up “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” (or FUD). The plan is to try to provide reasonable analysis about the validity of the claims. I generally do not link to the articles that “inspire” me to write this, as I do not wish to reward analysis I feel is poor with increased traffic. However, I will freely admit that my analysis may contain incorrect assumptions, and will do my best to acknowledge them in future articles.
Tesla stock has been on a solid run and the bears are claiming this is in large part driven by Elon Musk’s claims regarding new Tesla products that won’t come true, or will but will be ultra late due to “Elon Time,” commonly understood to mean that Elon makes a claim and then Tesla is always late on it. I wanted to take a quick look at that, so here goes…
Elon Time (Past)
In the beginning, Tesla definitely had a problem in which it would announce a deadline and then, for whatever reason, would have issues hitting that deadline. The original Roadster was supposed to start regular production in 2008, and … well … this headline from Tesla’s own blog on April 20, 2010, perhaps says it best: “Tesla Motors Begins Regular Production of 2008 Tesla Roadster.”
The Model S was basically the same deal. Originally announced June 30, 2008, and unveiled March 27, 2009, it was expected to go on sale in late 2010 and hit production rates of 20,000 per year by mid-2012. Instead, the first Model S was delivered in June of 2012, with total deliveries in 2012 being just 2,650 cars.
Another model, same delays. Model X was revealed February 9, 2012, with deliveries planned to start early 2014, and the first Model X deliveries began September 29, 2015.
The Model 3 was the first Tesla with a different story. Although, it didn’t appear to many outsiders much different. Unveiled March 31, 2016, production was originally slated to begin in late 2017. It did. In late summer Musk predicted the company could produce 20,000+ Model 3’s per month by December, however, which meant the 2,685 cars that were produced seemed like a huge miss.
The Semi was unveiled, Tesla started guiding for limited production in 2019, which hasn’t come about. It’s been known that the Semi was a little delayed, but that may be a sign (I think) that something positive is up with it, as none of the Semi customers have publicly complained about the delay.
The Solar Roof is another product that could be considered delayed, and putting solar panels on the roofs at most Supercharger locations isn’t happening as quickly as Tesla had hoped.
So, when it comes to the Cybertruck, in particular, let’s get real — we’re talking 2024 or later for delivery, right? Let’s take a look at some recent matters, though, as I think Tesla has learned its lesson…
Elon Time (Present)
The Model Y was guided to go into limited production in late 2020. That was officially moved up to the start of 2020, and some fresh rumors about production state that suppliers were asked to accelerate their parts delivery timelines.
Gigafactory 3 had ground broken on January 7th, 2019. Musk stated at the time he hoped to have some initial production by the end of the year and volume production in 2020. Auto plant construction experts stated the fastest it could be done was 24 months, but would probably take a new manufacturer like Tesla three years. It took instead 168 days to reach test production, and is rumored today to already be ramping up to 1,000 vehicles a week.
Well, even if both of those timelines are holding, Full Self Driving is still not happening, right? I expanded on this in an article called “What Is Autopilot?” Musk has stated FSD will be “feature complete” by the end of the year. In short, feature complete software means that the development team believes that it reached the end of alpha development. It seems that every bear is missing this, and even multiple bulls, but Tesla will not roll FSD out to the fleet when it is “feature complete.” Tesla will roll FSD out to an extremely limited number of vehicles to start testing on.
And, perhaps most importantly, unless Tesla tells us, we have no way to know exactly when the feature complete version of FSD is installed in any vehicles.
So, what does this all mean?
Maybe in the past “Elon Time” was a thing that meant add an extra 50% to the time he stated for the actual timeline, but it doesn’t any more. I think that as Musk and Tesla have become more experienced, their timelines have become extremely realistic.
When you don’t know exactly what it will take to do something, it’s easy to set timelines that are either too optimistic or too pessimistic. Musk even recognized in the Autonomy Day presentation that his timelines were often optimistic. Experience, however, often makes it easier to understand what will go into something. Tesla has that experience now, and has been either on track or ahead of schedule for most of its recent promises.
Do people really think that the Cybertruck will be out in 2024? I’m sure a lot do. And those are the ones who aren’t paying attention to what the company has been doing lately. I, for one, expect timelines to be met — and even exceeded — far more often than not in the future.
I am a Tesla shareholder who has purchased shares within the preceding 12 months. Research I do for articles, including this article, may compel me to increase or decrease stock positions. However, I will not do so within 48 hours after any article in which I discuss matters that I feel may materially affect stock price is published. I do not believe that my voice could or should influence stock price by itself, and I strongly caution anyone against using my work as your sole data point to choose to invest or divest in any company. My articles are my opinion, which was formulated using research based on publicly available data. However, my research or conclusions may be incorrect.