"Leasing now also comes with the Tesla happiness guarantee," Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk said in a blog post last weekend. The announcement came along with a few other changes to the way Tesla leases its cars. After unconfirmed reports made rounds that Tesla's U.S. deliveries are down during Q3, the improved leasing program has been translated by some to signal softening demand in the company's local market. But a closer look reveals there is no merit to these concerns.
Tesla leasing explained
There is nothing but upside in Tesla's improved leasing program. With a new arrangement for leasing with US Bank, Tesla is able to offer leasing for its vehicles at a price that is 25% lower than it was previously. This was made possible, Musk said, because US Bank "has a much lower cost of capital than us." The program is only available in the U.S.
In addition to a 25% cut in leasing pricing, the happiness guarantee should also prove to be a compelling offering for consumers. Musk explained the unusual incentive on Tesla's blog.
If you don't like our car for any reason in the first three months, you can just return it and your remaining lease obligation is waived. The only catch is that you can't then immediately lease another Model S. Upgrading early is no problem if you want to do that, but there is a pass-through fee to cover the new vs. used value difference.
Not a signal of weakening demand for Model S
Several publications, the Wall Street Journal included, have incorrectly insinuated that Tesla made the move to respond to weakening U.S. sales.
"Electric-Car Maker Looks to Lift Sagging U.S. Sales Through New Incentives," said the Journal's article on Tesla's leasing program earlier this week.
The problem with this statement is that there is not one clear indicator that Tesla's sales are actually "sagging" in the U.S. Quarterly fluctuations in Tesla sales in a given region are not a reflection of demand since the company is currently facing excess demand. Orders, which Tesla said during its last quarterly letter to shareholders are still on the rise, are the only indicator of a demand trajectory we have for the company. Furthermore, U.S. sales have been negatively affected in the first half of the year as Tesla has opted to begin ramping up the volume of its supply-limited vehicle inventory in its international pipelines. This has made understanding the demand in the U.S. market for Tesla's vehicles even more difficult.
And here's the most important counter to the worries about Tesla's U.S. sales (and this is unfortunately the point that gets overlooked the most): Given Tesla's underpenetrated U.S. retail presence and its lack of advertising spend, the company looks poised to drive up demand at will. But why drive up demand when you should be spending energy on solving supply bottlenecks?
It's also worth noting, as Musk clarified in a tweet Tuesday night, that Tesla is not offering a discount. The improvement in price is only related to the improved terms with US Bank. The revenue Tesla derives from each vehicle sale under leasing, therefore, will remain unchanged.
Also, lease price improvement is due to US Bank deal. It is *not* a discount. Revenue to Tesla is unchanged.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 28, 2014
If investors are looking for indicators of Tesla's demand, they should wait for the company's quarterly letter to shareholders next week and the earnings call for comments on the trajectory of orders for its vehicles. Suggesting that an improved leasing program is evidence of sluggish demand is a shallow observation with nothing to support such a theory.
Sure, longer-term, Tesla will reach a point where demand for Model S will exceed supply. At this point, Tesla may want to consider incentives that require discounting, advertising spend, etc. But the indicators that Tesla is nearing such a point haven't yet surfaced.
Tesla's new leasing deal is good news, period
The new incentives outlined in Tesla's upgraded leasing program outline a positive storyline for investors. First of all, the "happiness guarantee" shows just how confident Tesla is in its cars. Second, the lower leasing price for its vehicles is a win for Tesla since it increases the value proposition for Tesla Model S buyers in the U.S. without discounting revenue.
Here's the only takeaway investors can make about the new incentives for leasing at this point: Just as Tesla's orders in the U.S. increased sequentially last quarter, the same is now increasingly likely to happen in the next few quarters with this improved leasing program.