What the Future Holds for Tesla Motors

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) is making its mark on the auto industry. Growing demand for the company's gas-free vehicles paints a rosy picture. Still, there are key developments that stock investors should be mindful of as we round out the year. Tracking where a company has been is a good guide for the future. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at Tesla's achievements thus far and what shareholders can expect going forward.

Charging into the future
The clean-energy start-up's successful debut of its seven-passenger Model S sedan last month marked a turning point in auto history. Thanks to Tesla, fervent environmentalists are no longer the only ones getting behind the wheel of electric vehicles.

Its new zero-emission car continues to collect rave reviews from industry experts and auto enthusiasts alike. The praise is well-deserved, considering the odds have been stacked against Tesla from the beginning. Luckily, the company's first mainstream car is more than living up to the hype.

In fact, according to one review by The Wall Street Journal, "The Model S is the most impressive feat of American industrial engineering since, well, a couple of months ago, when Mr. Musk's SpaceX successfully launched and recovered a spacecraft that rendezvoused with the international space station."

Not only did Tesla CEO Elon Musk set out to create the best electric vehicle ever built, but also the best performance sedan on earth. And if initial reviews are any indication, the Tesla team certainly delivered on that promise.

For those who prefer life in the fast lane, the top-of-the-line version of the new all-electric S series hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Indeed, Tesla is one of the industry leaders in terms of miles-per-charge, with the most expensive Model S capable of traveling up to 300 miles without recharging.

Competing EVs crowd the highways
Tesla is also defying another sticking point for electric vehicles: design. Unlike competing electric cars, the Model S doesn't resemble a glorified golf cart. Even the newest EVs from major automakers, including Ford (NYSE: F  ) and General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , can't keep up. The 2012 electric Ford Focus, for example, tops out at 84 mph and has a range of just 100 miles between charges.

On the other hand, GM's updated Chevy Volt is finally getting buzz-worthy press, thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign. While the hybrid vehicle only gets 40 miles on a single electric charge, it also has a backup gas generator. The reason I mention this is that crossovers and hybrids are helping to ease the transition to 100% electric options like Tesla's Model S and its upcoming SUV, the Model X.

Revolutionizing the game
In January I wrote an article about Tesla titled "A Stock to Beat the Odds in 2012." Management has since accomplished many of the goals it set at the start of the year. Today, I believe mass EV production is well within Tesla's grasp.

It's telling that the company has successfully navigated the heavy costs that come with building a world-class car company from the ground up. We can also expect to see more Tesla retail stores popping up in the months to come. That's because the Silicon Valley-based company is drawing design inspiration from Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) playbook, at least in regards to its new mall stores.

Tesla hired George Blankenship, Apple's former retail guru, to get the job done. Having spent more than 10 years as chief of real estate for Apple, Blankenship is more than qualified for the task at hand: reinventing the car purchasing experience.

A familiar story
With the help of Blankenship as Tesla's vice president of worldwide sales, the company is opening showrooms in malls around the country to showcase display models of its vehicles. True, the idea of selling cars in a shopping mall sounds ludicrous, at least, until you consider Apple's coming-of-age story.

Look back to 2001, when Blankenship helped design and open the first Apple retail store. At the time, critics mocked the Mac maker for attempting a retail strategy that broke with the norms of its industry. BusinessWeek went so far as to publish a story with the headline: "Sorry, Steve: Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work."

Nevertheless, we all know how the story ends. Today, Apple is the most valuable company in the world, with more than 300 Apple Store locations worldwide. Following Apple's example, I suspect Tesla's high-end showrooms will have a transformative effect on automotive retailing.

Hot wheels
Musk's company has yet to make money. However, assuming Model S deliveries remain on track, I expect Tesla to turn a quarterly profit as soon as 2013. In the interim, the company's shares are brimming with growth potential.

For now, the auto upstart will continue to ramp up production on its Model S line, build out its retail stores, and take down payment reservations for the Model X. Given Musk's track record, I expect big things out of Tesla in the years to come. That's why I have a CAPScall of "outperform" on the stock.

I'm bullish on Tesla's long-term potential, but there's a different stock that our chief investment officer is even more excited about. This stock has so much potential that we've dubbed it "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." Simply click here to get the name and analysis of this stock in our special free report.

Foolish contributor Tamara Rutter owns shares of Tesla Motors and Apple. Follow her on Twitter, where she uses the handle @TamaraRutter, for more Foolish insights and investing advice. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Ford Motor, and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Ford Motor, Tesla Motors, Apple, and General Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2012, at 12:11 PM, spawn44 wrote:

    Tesla may be a great car but how many people buy an electric car so they can go 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds.

    You can go 300 miles on a charge, but at what cost.

    Time will tell if enough people are willing to shell out for an expensive electric vehicle so they can feel good about not contributing to a CO2 problem THAT DOES NOT EXIST.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2012, at 1:47 PM, David7turner wrote:

    As an engineer who believes in the laws of physics... can some one tell me what Tesla is offereing. They are not using any technology (battery, motor, power electronics etc) that is superior to any of the others. In fact the motor is arguably not as effecient as most of the others (Induction vs BLDC) They have simply offered a very large battery pack to get the so called 300 mile range, and a very big motor to get the fast acceleration time. Try using that acceleration and see how long the battery lasts!

    The technology is available to everyone. Others have just decided to offer slightly different variations of the battery pack and motor size. Mainly because the cost of the Tesla choice is very high.

    We really need to get some engineering into these discussions. There is no way round the energy required to propel a wheeled vehicle. It applies to Tesla and all other suppliers!

    I am an electrical engineer who has worked on electric vehicle technolgy since1980, and not for an OEM by the way.

  • Report this Comment On July 17, 2012, at 5:43 PM, 48ozhalfgallons wrote:

    Well.... at least they are pretty. Why can't a Prius look that way? I just don't get it.

  • Report this Comment On July 18, 2012, at 6:37 PM, carsandplanes wrote:

    "Tracking where a company has been is a good guide for the future."

    So why didn't you pay any attention to this when you wrote the article? Tesla was significantly late in their initial deliveries of the Roadster. They also had predicted the model would allow the company to achieve profitability, but if you reduce R&D and SG&A ro 2009 levels for TSLA the company is still not profitable on Roadster and parts sales. One of the key issues with the Roadster (and thus with the poor financial performance of TSLA) is its abysmal quality, resulting in an average warranty cost of over $0.40 per vehicle mile. Finally, the hubbub surrounding the S was all based on a small set of hand-built models, with ZERO production readiness right up to the so-called "start of production deliveries".

    Whether EVs are good or not, whether the car has a longer range than the Leaf or not, whether gas prices rise or fall... these are largely irrelevant. Tesla is at a cash precipice and is gagging on the production of cars at less than one-tenth the required rate. They do not understand how to execute proper production methods, regardless of propulsion technologies. They consistently lose more money than their gross revenues. The S is their SOLE product of any consequence, and they will fail in its execution.

    It's interesting that MF's "CAPS" tool ranks TSLA as a total dog, and yet most of your "experts" are in love with it.

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