Last week, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) CEO Elon Musk responded to the negative headlines surrounding the company's battery fires in a passionate blog post. But the public bickering continues as the NHTSA conducts its investigation into the fires. While the media continues to indulge in juicy headlines, here's a break from the nonsense and a bridge back to the bigger picture.
The fires and the resulting investigation have spooked some investors. Sure, Tesla is under pressure. After asserting on multiple occasions that the likelihood of a Model S recall is unlikely, Tesla has some tough standards to live up to. And if it the NHTSA finds a defect, the Street may be less inclined to listen to Musk's passionate defense of the company's vehicles in the future.
On the other hand, there's a good chance Musk could be right; maybe there won't be a recall. The facts are certainly in his favor. It's the safest car ever sold in the United States. There are far more reported fires per vehicle for ICE vehicle than there are for Model S. And the Model S is keeping customers happy, if not ecstatic; recently Model S owners confirmed their satisfaction in a Consumer Reports survey in which the Model S earned 99 out of 100 points based on owner survey results. This echoed Consumer Reports' own testing, when the agency gave the car 99 out of 100 points earlier this year. Even the drivers involved in the three Tesla fires have expressed enthusiasm for the Model S after their accidents.
But if the NHTSA does decide to take action, Musk said in a recent tweet that he is ready to respond.
If NHTSA identifies an improvement that would materially improve safety, it will be implemented at no cost to all cars.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2013
Sure, Tesla's aggressive PR response could backfire on the company if the NHTSA concludes there is a defect. But whatever happens, this noise will probably fade away into a meaningless blip as the company's overarching mission "to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible" takes center stage.
The question for Tesla investors is not whether Tesla will have to make further adjustments to design to prevent fires. If there is a defect, Tesla will address it and move on. The questions investors should be asking are much bigger. Questions like these:
- Will Tesla successfully carve out a sustainable market for its electric vehicles, despite well-equipped, much larger manufacturers?
- Is it feasible that Tesla will be selling hundreds of thousands of fully electric cars per year in five years time?
It's the answers to these 10,000-foot view questions that will help Tesla investors get a better grasp on where the company may be headed.
So keep an eye on the fires and the investigation, but keep your focus on the bigger picture -- that's what will make or break Tesla stock over the long haul.
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