More than 100 years after the invention of the electric powertrain, it finally looks like electric vehicles are here to stay. Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) is at the forefront of this massive shift, and its stock has enjoyed a record run as a result.
In fact, the electric-car maker is now worth more than rival automakers Mitsubishi, Fiat, and Suzuki, with a market cap north of $24 billion today. However, Tesla still faces tremendous execution risks as it aims to deliver a mass market EV by 2018.
Given the high level of uncertainty in this stock going forward, let's take a closer look at three important developments for Tesla Motors this month, and what they mean for investors.
1. Goodbye range anxiety
Convincing consumers that electric cars won't run out of charge and leave them stranded on the side of the road is one of the biggest challenges that Tesla Motors faces. It isn't enough that Tesla's Model S boasts the longest range of any fully electric car on the road today, with an EPA-rated range of up to 270 miles per charge Therefore, in an attempt to change people's perception of EVs, Tesla's chief executive, Elon Musk, recently announced an exciting new software update for the Model S.
Introducing range assurance and trip planner -- two new features that aim to ease a Model S driver's range anxiety. To complement Tesla's growing network of Superchargers -- there are now 400 Supercharger stations worldwide -- the company rolled out an application dubbed "Range Assurance" this month, which communicates with Tesla's Supercharger network in real time, and automatically routes the driver to nearby charging stations when needed.
The technology takes everything from terrain to weather and wind speed into account. Perhaps more important, Tesla says this software "makes it effectively impossible for a Model S driver to run out of charge unintentionally," according to a company press release. The company's new trip-planner feature adds further convenience to the Range Assurance application by integrating the most convenient charging options into your trip in order to ensure the fastest possible travel route to your destination.
While these developments won't end range anxiety altogether, consumers' initial responses to the updates were positive. In fact, 71% of people polled by The Street said they would "be more likely to buy a Model S" given Tesla's latest range announcements.
These software updates also highlight an important competitive advantage of Tesla's cars versus gas-powered autos. Unlike other cars on the road today, Tesla's EVs get better over time. Thanks to over-the-air software updates, Tesla is able to improve all Model S vehicles remotely. Ultimately, Tesla is becoming equal parts automaker and software company.
2. Tesla being sued in the U.K.
Once again, Tesla Motors is being sued. However, this time it isn't U.S. dealer associations or Chinese patent trolls. Instead, it's Ecotricity Group, a green utility company based in Britain. Ecotricity is suing Tesla for reportedly using confidential information to persuade highway rest-stop companies to break their contracts with Ecotricity in favor of installing exclusive charging infrastructure, according to Bloomberg.
Not one to take lawsuits lying down, Tesla countersued on the grounds that Ecotricity abused its position as a dominant renewable-energy supplier. The court battle is ongoing, though Tesla won a small victory against Ecotricity, as the judge didn't force the California-based automaker to produce certain phone records or other documents that Ecotricity had previously requested.
Nevertheless, this emphasizes the growing importance of EV infrastructure, and the extent companies are willing to go to secure a piece of the nascent market. Tesla currently operates around 143 Supercharging locations throughout Europe, and plans to expand its charging infrastructure there in the months ahead .
3. Tesla adds New Jersey to its list of triumphs
If you live in the Garden State and you want to buy a Tesla, you now can. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill earlier this month that will enable Tesla Motors to open four locations in the state where it can sell its cars directly to consumers. This marks a reversal from Christie's decision a year ago to back a rule that banned direct auto sales in the state. Welcome back to the right side of history, Gov. Christie.
This is an important win for both Tesla and the citizens of New Jersey because it will bring new jobs to the state as Tesla invests in store openings and service centers there. Additionally, New Jersey's about-face on this ruling could inspire other states, such as Texas and Arizona, to action, as both states currently prohibit the direct sale of autos.
While all three of these developments are notable, Tesla's latest software updates meant to address range anxiety are perhaps the most important to the company's long-term success. The California-based EV maker faces exciting opportunities with the upcoming launch of its Model X Crossover vehicle later this year, and the ongoing build-out of its Gigafactory. However, producing the most lithium-ion batteries on the plant won't do Tesla any good if it isn't able to first convince the masses to drive electric cars.