Calling Tesla A Bubble Is Normal Now, I Guess

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Elon and Arnie talk Tesla in 2008
Elon and Arnie talk Tesla in 2008
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

On the face of it, Tesla is a small car company that produces lots of electric vehicles. But Tesla is also a hype machine that stands in for the future, and as such its stock has ballooned greater than the heights of the dot com bubble. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 11, 2021.

1st Gear: Everyone’s Rounding Up Tesla’s 2020 And Talking Bubbles

Whether or not you’re into Tesla, people have been looking back on the company’s 2020 and are putting discussions of it being a bubble ready to burst right in the mainstream. Here’s Bloomberg today in a rather straightforward opinion piece:

To be sure, the company is still far off from Apple’s current $2.2 trillion market cap, and its recent rally is partly thanks to a market-wide rush to tech stocks that has some analysts screaming, “Bubble.” (The carmaker’s stock shot up a whopping 743% in 2020 alone.) 


And in Bloomberg today there is a more direct comparison to the dot com days. An article “Tesla’s Absurdity Amplifies the Tech Bubble Echoes” notes that Tesla’s rise is greater than what we saw in companies like Cisco, Amazon, or Microsoft:

Plainly, Tesla is a real company making real products and with a history of sales and even some profits. It isn’t to be compared to or or many of the other small companies that should never have gone public and enjoyed a brief manic burst of fame two decades ago. Small and speculative companies are always prone to froth.

Instead, it is worth comparing Tesla to three companies that were at the center of the TMT boom in 1999 and 2000 and have gone on to prove that they are indeed great companies: Cisco Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Inc. Microsoft nearly doubled in the 12 months up to its peak in December 1999, while the other two trebled in the last year before their peaks. None of them remotely compares to the ascent of Tesla, which is now up more than 800% over 12 months[.]


What’s funny is that if you do run out the simulation on Tesla echoing the dot com boom, those heavily tied up in Tesla will have some time to burn coming up, per Bloomberg:

In price terms, Cisco’s investors are still under water. Amazon shareholders had to wait out a decline of more than 90%, and didn’t show a profit on their investment for a decade; since then it has worked out brilliantly. Buyers of Microsoft at the top in 1999 had to wait 15 years to make a profit. And all of these are companies that looked as well established as Tesla does now (Amazon is a partial exception), and which have fulfilled the rosy expectations of them.


We’ve been idly poking around at the idea of Tesla’s stock being in a bubble for a while now, wondering what will happen when it bursts. I don’t totally know why. I don’t want to see Tesla fail. That’s not because I’m a fan of Elon. It’s just because I’m afraid of the repercussions to the development of EVs if the biggest name out there suddenly goes bust. Something like that happened right around 110 years ago with the fall of the Electric Vehicle Company here in New York, and it took a century for the EV market to recover.

2nd Gear: Also, Tesla Is Hiring

There’s a new opening to make Teslas more at home in the world’s largest car market, as Reuters reports:

Tesla Inc is searching for a design director in China, part of efforts to open a “full-function” studio in Shanghai or Beijing and design electric cars tailored to Chinese consumer tastes, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.


If you’re a car designer in China, please slide into Elon’s DMs, or however you get a job anymore.

3rd Gear: So Baidu Is Working With Geely

We’ve heard about Chinese search engine mega corporation Baidu wanting in on EVs for about a month, but now we have the name of its planned partner. It’s Geely, the largest private Chinese automaker (that is, the largest one that’s not state-owned), as the Financial Times reports:

China’s largest search engine provider said on Monday that it would set up a subsidiary to make battery powered cars. The vehicles will be sold under a new brand, and loaded with Baidu’s autonomous driving, voice assistance and mapping technology.


As its core search business has languished, Baidu has followed rivals into crowded new businesses including short video, live streaming, gaming and food delivery, but has struggled to gain traction. Its shares have risen about 46 per cent since news reports in mid-December suggested it planned to make its own EVs.

Geely’s launch in September of its global system for building battery powered cars made the carmaker one of a handful of global brands selling third parties the expensive technology that would underpin a shift from fuel-burning to electric vehicles. 


Geely is always interesting to Western auto writers, which I assume is because Geely owns Volvo and a bunch of American car writers used to drive Volvos at some point.

4th Gear: Faraday Future Still Exists

I remember reporting on the implosion of Faraday Future’s initial braggadocio back in 2016. I remember, too, being amazed that the startup was still starting on up in 2018. It’s 2021 and Faraday Future still exists in some shape or form, as Bloomberg reports that it’s looking to go public with a merger:

Faraday & Future Inc., an electric-vehicle startup, is in talks to go public through a merger with Property Solutions Acquisition Corp., a special-purpose acquisition company, according to people with knowledge with the matter.

The special purpose acquisition company is seeking to raise more than $400 million in equity to support the transaction, which is slated to value the combined entity at around $3 billion, the people said. As with all deals that haven’t been finalized, it’s possible that terms change or talks fall apart.


That Faraday Future is signing anyone’s checks at all blows my mind.

5th Gear: It’s 1987 Again For Jeep

Please enjoy this story from Automotive News saying that Jeep is the crown jewel of a newly merger’d car company stretching across America and Europe. “Jeep takes starring role in Stellantis” is the headline, and the article is straightforward:

“We think the potential of Jeep is not optimized yet. I think there’s still a lot of room for us to grow,” [Christian Meunier, Jeep’s global president] told Automotive News. “The three-row expansion for Grand Cherokee is a big step. The Grand Wagoneer [and] the Wagoneer, another step. The electrification of Jeep — really another way to expand the brand and to make the brand even sexier than it is today.”

Meunier said he sees “an opportunity to broaden our appeal to people today that like Jeep but are not considering Jeep.” The goal is “to make Jeep bigger without diluting the brand and the DNA,” Meunier said. “That’s core to it.”

Jeep has been core to FCA, which nurtured the SUV brand from what had been the smallest of the three Chrysler Corp. brands when DaimlerChrysler unraveled 14 years ago into the sixth-largest make in the U.S. Beyond Jeep and the hugely profitable Ram line of pickups, the postmerger future isn’t nearly as clear for other FCA brands — particularly Chrysler, Alfa Romeo and Fiat.


This all sounds right out of 1987, when Chrysler bought AMC for $1.5 billion. Take this contemporary New York Times coverage as an example:

The transaction would give Chrysler the highly profitable Jeep vehicles to broaden its model lineup, as well as A.M.C’s modern assembly plant in Bramalea, Ontario, and 1,400 additional dealers.Chrysler announced that it had agreed to buy the 46 percent of American Motors held by Renault, the French Government-owned car company that bought into American Motors eight years ago. With that, automotive analysts said, the takeover is assured. Chrysler will also offer to buy up the remaining shares from the public. Little of the payment may be in cash.“It’s a great deal for all three companies involved,’” said Jack V. Kirnan, an analyst with the Wall Street firm of Kidder, Peabody & Company. “Jeep is a major prize.’’


Reverse: Aviatrix Is A Cool Word


Neutral: If Tesla Is In A Bubble, What Happens After It Bursts?

I do wonder what the car world looks like post-Tesla, maybe more than I wonder what happens to Tesla the company itself.