Tesla direct sales; the real problem is cracking the door open for others

tesla serivceWhen the rubber hits the road, what is the problem dealers have with Tesla’s direct sales?  Publicly they claim Tesla’s direct to consumer model won’t provide the dealer support we Americans have come to expect.  Looking at the competitive landscape, I don’t see it that way. Compared to other brands selling limited volumes, “dealering up” isn’t Tesla’s problem.  That is, assuming regulators let them.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s has a proclivity to invest in infrastructure and there is no reason the OEM can’t roll out full service dealers as they grow volume and geography.  Access to capital has not been a problem, to date.  It will be a new hit on profits that investors need to look into, but it’s a viable alternative.  In the end, this argument goes back to Ford’s experiment with “direct-dealing” in the 1990’s.  U.S. dealers don’t want Tesla to crack the door open for the likes of GM, Ford, FiatChrysler or the Asian volume makes.

Tesla currently has around 50 retail locations and service centers nationwide. Takechart a look at the comparison to a few other automakers.  To be fair, many of the Tesla showrooms are merely storefronts in malls or on luxury strips.  However, their hard service stores are where the sales are.  They don’t have a lot tied up in prospective service.

To match the likes of Audi, Lexus or Infiniti, each who sell in the neighborhood of 150 thousand a year, Tesla would need to open  150 additional full service dealers.  Based on traditional costs, that would be an investment of roughly $700 million to $1 billion. That’s a lot, and I think underestimated by many company watchers — add this to the questions on forward-looking R&D.  But given Elon Musk’s track record, not insurmountable.

Tesla Dealer and Service Centers May 2014

Tesla Dealer and Service Centers May 2014

Aston Martin US Dealer Map (May 2014)

Aston Martin US Dealer locations(May 2014)

Porsche US Dealer Locations (May 2014)

Porsche US Dealer Locations (May 2014)

Maserati dealer locations (May 2014)

Maserati dealer locations (May 2014)

 

Does a customer really car who invests to build the service center?  Arguably he current model of OEM-dealer relationship hasn’t built the most efficient or jdptrust-inspiring sales method.  High end dealer have a bigger reputational risk in providing poor service or shifting blame to OEMs, and not surprisingly they are the most trusted in customer service surveys.  So far Tesla has not met competition head on.  The first real competition is hitting the market with the BMW i3.  I think Tesla may underestimate how much it may take to run a competitive dealer network to BMW, but they can.

Bottom line:  Last month, I wrote tongue-in-cheek that Tesla religion”ists” should offer up capital for a stand-alone, zero-profit distribution company to help out the company,  More seriously, it’s important to understand that deep down, dealers realize that Tesla selling direct is not the demon,  The sin would be cracking the door open for one of the volume makes.  Some smaller dealer groups see this as an existential battle and I don’t see it being settled nationwide shortly.  Meanwhile I am confident that Tesla has a plan B and will have a more fleshed out sales and service network, either direct or a close third-party.

In the end, the real question on Tesla is sustained demand for Model S in the short-term.  It’s been pretty flat in the US, and erratic in Europe.  As we wait for Q2 real production on Model X, Asian interest needs to translate into hard volume orders in in Q2 2014.  Production at 7,500 per quarter, fulfills the order book in 3-6 months, and de-bottlenecked production to 10,000 per quarter would leave them with too much capacity i the short-run.   Would the company hold back production t to maintain a backlog?  Bring on the Model X.

Other issues to watch include the recently raised question of R&D forecasts and as I noted above, increase in SG&A needs.

November US Auto Sales: the real data to watch at year-end

November U.S. auto sales are out tomorrow morning.  Get ready for hype of how many red 2-door V-6’s this automaker or that moved on Black Friday.  It’s not relevant.  I really don’t care whether the month tracked at 15.5 or 16.1 million SAAR.  We are closing on on the shift from a rapidly expanding market to a market where costs will automakers will have to control costs and command price.  

Here are three things to look at as the year ends.  More important than overall volume.

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  1. Inventories have crept up.  If December is a blow-out, +16 million, then this may adjust.  If it paces in mid 15’s.  Say 15.5-15.7, then I expect continued inventory build to be a worry.Capture
  2. Sub-prime lending is getting to aggressive.  If macro indicators are improving, Continue reading

Breaking News: Japanese car brands are alive and well in the U.S.

Newly assembled 2013 Ford Escapes sit on plant lots ready to be shipped out to dealers at the newly transformed Louisville Assembly Plant in LouisvilleSo Japanese brands are back in the U.S. auto market. I wasn’t aware they ever left.

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Japanese brands gained during crisis, but overall have been stable.

Sure, the past two years have given us production upsets from a tsunami, the Tsunami and a hyper strengthening of the yen all while the US auto market has bounced back from historic lows during the financial crisis. Japanese brand market share peaked in 2 Continue reading

Daimler Tesla – dating again?

c0ourtesy car & driver

courtesy car & driver

The on again, off again love affair between Daimler and Tesla seems to warming up again and Elon Musk and Tesla fans couldn’t ask for better timing.   At a press briefing in NY this week, Daimler CFO Bodo Uebber, confirmed he has urged his team to “learn more from Telsa

Early on, Daimler took a 10% equity stake in Tesla (since sold down to 4.3%), providing smart_evthe company not only with much-needed capital but two more important assets; legitimacy and orders for the SmartForTwo and B-Class.  Along with Toyota, Daimler hedged it’s entry into the electric market via Telsa with a smaller order for 2400 Rav4 E.

It strikes me as interesting that this comment comes on the heels of an announcement from Thomas Weber, Daimler’s Head of R&D that the company would deepen its relationship with Continue reading

China August Auto Sales view; relax

The “China Slowdown” is running right behind the Europe morass and the U.S. fiscal cliff have been the big news for the US market. Now, August sees the China auto market rate of growth slow again, growing concern for automakers.  Here are a couple of thoughts on the impact on global Auto OEMs:

The biggest concern I’ve heard is over Toyota’s two months of decline in the market; -15% for August after a -5% in July.  Toyota says this is more a technical issue resulting form unseasonably big increased in July and August 2011 as it ramped local sales back up after the Japan crises. Both Toyota and local dealers dismissed suggestions that local pushback on Japan-China politics was not  Continue reading

Q2 2012 Global Auto Earnings: four not so obvious thoughts

While everyone is laser focused on the imploding European auto industry and we ponder the sustainability of the US volume recovery, there are a few things to keep an eye on that may not be top-of-mind:

1) Latin America: The meteoric growth of the Brazilian market has slowed to standstill and surrounding markets have stalled as well.  While the industry has expected the flattening market, a steep rise in  low-cost imports has created pricing pressure.  Companies like Fiat, GM and VW who had been enjoying the tailwinds of strong double-digit margins over the past decade will feel Continue reading

China first half auto sales: still on two tracks

China auto sales are in for the first half and they are slightly ahead of the consensus of 5% growth for the year.  Overall PV sales are up 7.1% over last year, and again we see a two-tiered level of performance.

First-half growth was driven largely by a rebound on the Japanese brands after their hit from last year’s earthquake impact, and a push from luxury brands 2012 actions to move overbuilt inventory.  Overall GM + the Japanese brands lead the increase while locals were relatively flat.  June sales were extremely strong +16%, I see this as mainly driven against the constricted J3 sales post earthquake in 2011.

The Japanese brands drove market growth with newly stocked inventory.  June sales were extremely strong for Honda in particular, up 84%.  Nissan and Toyota had more regular supply last year leading to results more in line with YTD numbers.

However, all international brands are not the same Continue reading

Used cars in China: risks but VER¥ BIG opportunities

No, I don’t speak the language, but I do recognize that the development of the used cars (Èrshǒu chē) market marks a milestone in the maturity of the Chinese auto sector. In 2011. China passed the US as the largest new car market with 14.5 million passenger vehicle sales and from 2007-2011 the market saw more than 50 million new cars sold.

Going forward, the market may slow, but will remain at least in the 20 million range with foreign brands growing faster and more consistently than the overall market. During the first quarter of 2012, domestic brands fell 8.1% while foreign brands picked up 3.2 pts of market share, now accounting for 42.9% of total sales.

This trend could push the development of a local used car market as international brands work to import their experience in managing used car markets in the US, Japan and European markets. Among other pressures on the demand side are tightening emissions restrictions. Wholesale buyers are avoiding older, low-end units in favor or more recent mid-to-high-end and luxury cars. While there is currently a net oversupply of used vehicles in Beijing, luxury models such a used Mercedes have seen double-digit growth in China.

The steady growth has built a considerable park of existing vehicles in China. While there is no solidly reliable data on how long a first buyer (and more than two-thirds of buyers today are first time buyers) hold onto a car, we are seeing a burgeoning used car market. In 2009, the state had already begun efforts to reform the used market including standards for city and regional used car exchanges. Today, market participants are waiting for additional reforms to establish a uniform system on pricing, terms of sales as well as  protection and guarantees for consumers. These reforms should bolster the opportunity for dealers, supporting higher prices that would allow buyers to feel more confident in paying for the pricier non domestic used cars.

This foreshadows a tremendous opportunity and risk for foreign brands in China. If they can corral the used car market, Continue reading

May US SAAR continues subdued growth

US Sales were up 16% for May 2012. SAAR comes  out at around 13.8 million for the month, which  threw some cool water on analysts expecting the 14+ million pace to continue. What is worrisome is that too many analysts took their numbers up on a strong April that clearly showed some flattening signs as did May. Whenever I see mid-month weakness in the numbers followed by an ultra-strong close, I see slowing demand. Jan – Apr tracked at a 14.5 million pace, and May has pulled that down to 14.3 million. While bulls had rushed to push some numbers up around 15 million, more experienced market watchers have held closer to 14 million forecasts. Why does it matter? Continue reading

J3 Automaker profits on track for FY 2013: probably so!

I’ve written in the past about the biggest impact on J3 earnings, not natural disasters or imagined acceleration…the yen.  With the yen trending stronger against the dollar over the past week, I took a look at estimates for FY2013 to double.  With Toyota and Honda using 80 yen/dollar and Nissan 82 yen/dollar, I’ve talked with some folks who are concerned that we may see some disappointment in the coming quarters if the yen hangs around these 78 levels.  I’m not so worried.  Let’s look at three points. Continue reading