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.

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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

PSA, an existential outlook. UG or not UG

psa

Will PSA be here as a company in 5 years.  Sure it will, as a brand, company and equity.  But in what way shape or form seems to shift each day.  Six months ago the market was pretty hedged on that question, a couple of weeks ago they seemed to have a plan.  After Philippe Varin’s comments this week on “alliances” fear is creeping back.  So, is there an existential threat to PSA at least as an invest-able vehicle?

Worries over the partnership with GM dying out are overblown.  The real cost savings PSA-RADD2012-EN_01_img_58have always been closer to 2017-2018.  At the same time, Opel and PSA do have a number of areas where they can cooperate. Mr. Varin made it clear that while the B platform is “under review” the B- and C-MPV projects are Continue reading

Happy Birthday Mr Ackerson, I wish you GM price discipline!

GM’s Dan Ackerson turned 55 today.  For his birthday I wish him the gift of pricing silverado628optdiscipline.  He’s had a tough couple of years learning the ropes of the GM business.  Let’s hope GM has unlearned its volume for profit strategy.

Ackerson says he wants to boost the company’s North American margins bringing consolidated margins solidly into upper single digits.  He also said GM wants to raise US market share, building on the back of the new truck lineup.  So far, so good.  What’s worrisome is recent noise from GM field sales and dealers that they need more incentives on the brand new vehicles to meet those market share goals.   He needs to resist that temptation.

Yes, GM trucks are now priced higher than their Ford and Ram competitors.  Yes incentives will move volume and help them win some market share.  But the minute he puts that heroine needle back in to the vein of GM distribution, he’s well down the slippery slope of Continue reading

2012 US SAAR – Strong year, decent behavior, I was wrong

Early in 2012 I went out on a limb with a low-ball forecast for the US market of 13.5 million, I was way low.  2012 sales hit 14,49 million, 1 million higher than I saw coming.  Great news for automakers and particularly dealers — maybe some tough news for buyers looking for a deal.

Main underestimation:

  • Easier access to credit with all major OEM’s reaching back into sub-prime.
  • Increased consumer confidence with a steady increase in SAAR rate including a strong push at year-end.
  • Continued deals as GM and Ford fought to keep the volume if not the market share they gained in 2011 when the Japanese were hamstrung. 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