Missed expectations, zero guidance: Tesla's 'great year' was anything but
'This was a 101 how not to do a conference call,' says Wall St expert
When Elon Musk says Tesla had a "great year," it's best to read between the lines – especially after such a disastrous quarterly earnings call.
Tesla shares plummeted in aftermarket trading and kept falling (by more than 10 percent as of writing) as markets opened the morning after Musk and company held their call with investors, and there's no shortage of reasons why.
There was the usual Musk hyperbole, some of which may be beginning to wear thin for investors, but the most glaring problem seems to be Tesla's outlook – and a total lack of guidance for the coming year.
While touting record production and delivery (completely overlooking the hard numbers [PDF] that missed Wall Street expectations), Musk warned that Tesla was entering 2024 "between two major growth waves." Those waves were better defined by Tesla as the previous expansion of Model 3 and Y availability and Tesla's forthcoming "next generation platform" that will be part of future vehicles along with a briefly mentioned, low-cost mystery model.
"In 2024, our volume growth will be lower, as we have said, because we're trying to focus the team on the launch of the next-generation vehicle," Tesla CFO Vaibhav Taneja said. "There will be periods where we won't be growing at the same rate as before."
That's about as close to guidance as the call got, and neither analysts nor investors are happy.
"This was a 101 how not to do a conference call," Wedbush managing director and senior equity analyst Dan Ives said on Bloomberg Surveillance this morning. "We're still bullish [on Tesla, but] the biggest issue here is that [Tesla] didn't give any goalposts. The bears won last night."
Speaking of the next-generation vehicle platform that is keeping Tesla from its next growth wave, Musk was quite cagey when asked about its availability.
"Our current schedule says that we will start production toward the end of 2025, so sometime in the second half," the Tesla CEO said, with added caveat: "That's just what our current schedule says."
"You know, I don't want to blow your minds, but I'm often optimistic regarding time," the electric automaker's boss admitted.
Thanks, Elon – we know.
Musk predicts a China-dominant Westworld future
It wouldn't be a Tesla earnings call without some bizarre statements and predictions from supremo Musk, and this one didn't disappoint.
Musk also proclaimed the upcoming version 12 of Autopilot, in which Tesla allegedly "replaced 330,000 lines of C++ code with neural nets" for "a complete architectural rewrite compared to prior versions," as "end-to-end artificial intelligence" – a claim sure to thrill regulators investigating overblown Autopilot claims.
Those relatively routine statements were hardly the most interesting parts of the call, though.
- 'Recession-resilient' Tesla misses Q3 expectations, slows Mexico expansion
- Tesla says California's Autopilot action violates its free speech rights
- Tesla, Musk likely aware of Autopilot deficiencies behind Florida fatality, says judge
- Musk: Tesla's doing great. I mean, have you seen my Twitter follower count?
When asked about the competition from Chinese electric vehicle makers, Musk described them as "the most competitive car companies in the world," and predicted global dominance if the rest of the world doesn't start sandbagging its ports.
"Frankly, I think if there are not trade barriers established, they will pretty much demolish most other companies in the world," Musk said. "They're extremely good."
Rather than fighting the red EV menace, it seems Musk would rather partner with it.
"We're obviously happy to give any electric car company access to our supercharger network," the CEO said. "We're also happy to license full self-driving, perhaps license other technologies and, you know, anything that could be helpful in advancing the sustainable energy revolution."
But the hottest air escaping from Musk's mouth was in response to questions about the company's Optimus humanoid robot, once a man in a suit and now a clunky proto-Cylon able to fold shirts – provided someone is at the helm.
Shortcomings aside, Musk predicted Optimus will ship surprisingly soon.
"I think we've got a good chance of shipping some number of Optimus units next year," Musk said on the call. "It has the potential to be the most valuable product of any kind ever, by far."
Musk kept going. "We're really building the future. I mean, the Optimus lab looks like the set of Westworld, but admittedly, that was not a super utopian situation," Musk said. It was at that point an unknown speaker on the call stepped in.
"Yeah, not the best reference," the speaker, who was unidentified in call transcripts, said. "We're not entering Westworld anytime soon."
All in all, your typical messy Tesla earnings call, which Ives boiled down in one concise paragraph.
"We were dead wrong expecting Musk and team to step up like adults in the room on the call and give a strategic and financial overview of the ongoing price cuts, margin structure, and fluctuating demand," the Tesla bull said. "Instead, we got a high-level Tesla long-term view with another train wreck conference call."