Now that Greece has put a proposal on the table for review by its bailout monitors and Chinese authorities have engineered the best two-day performance in the Shanghai Composite Index since 2008, U.S. equity traders are breathing a sigh of relief on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) and the broader S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) are up 1.15% and 1.17%, respectively, at 12 p.m. EDT. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite was up 0.27%; meanwhile, the CBOE Volatility Index (VOLATILITYINDICES:^VIX), or VIX, a market measure of expectations for short-term volatility in the S&P 500, was down 15.32%.
Tesla Motors and Apple: Who's imitating who?
Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) confirmed yesterday that it has hired Ganesh Srivats, a former Burberry's senior vice president, to become VP of North American Sales. The move is reminiscent of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) 2013 hire of Burberry Broup plc CEO Angela Ahrendts to become head of retail operations. But that's just one way in which the electric automobile manufacturer has imitated the digital devices heavyweight.
Compare the two companies' retail showrooms, for example:
The similarities are obvious: Both companies offer a bright, uncluttered, open-plan space that is inviting. That isn't a coincidence. In 2010, Tesla hired Apple alum George Blankenship with the title of VP of Design and Store Development and a mandate to "build Tesla's retail strategy and network."
In the press release announcing the hire, Tesla boasted that Mr. Blankenship is:
[...] best known as the architect of Apple's brand building retail strategy that raised the bar for customer experience in retail stores [...] As Apple's Vice President of Real Estate, he created one of the most successful retail growth strategies in history.
George Blankenship retired from Tesla Motors in Nov. 2013.
Blankenship is not the only Apple alum to have joined the upstart auto manufacturer. According to a Bloomberg article published in February, Tesla Motors has poached at least 150 employees -- or roughly 1.5% of its workforce at the end of 2014 -- from Apple. Other high-profile hires include Doug Field, who is responsible for developing new vehicle development. At Apple, Field led the development of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac under design guru Jony Ive.
Here's why Tesla Motors wants to be Apple
It's entirely logical for Tesla Motors to model itself on Apple for two reasons. First, Apple is unparalleled in its ability to combine sleek hardware with functional software. Cars are, increasingly, a combination of hardware and software, and this phenomenon is likely to accelerate as we move toward self-driving vehicles. Furthermore, if cars do become autonomous, they will be another environment, like the home or the office, in which people will work or enjoy entertainment. In that context, a car's digital capabilities and/or interoperability with existing devices will become an essential selling point.
Second, even though Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk wrote in 2006 that "our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars," the company's vehicles command a premium positioning, and that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Keep in mind that Tesla expects to deliver just 55,000 vehicles this year (for reference, Toyota is forecasting it will sell 1.1 million cars this year -- in China alone). Similarly, Apple has staked out a premium positioning for the devices and services that it offers.
(Or, as Tim Cook told BusinessWeek in Dec. 2012: "The DNA of the company, the thing that makes our heart beat, is a maniacal focus on making the best products in the world. Not good products, or a lot of products, but the absolute best products in the world.")
Tesla: Apple's market value in 10 years?
There is a third way in which Tesla Motors would like to resemble Apple, and that is, quite naturally, its phenomenal growth. In fact, Elon Musk drew an explicit comparison earlier this year when he outlined assumptions under which he said, "[Tesla's] market cap [in ten years' time] would be basically the same as Apple's is today."
There is one enormous risk to that rosy scenario, of course: If Apple decides it wants to be like Tesla and enters the car business. There are indications Apple is moving in this direction, and the notion isn't absurd, for some of the reasons outlined above. If that were to occur, it would certainly cause Tesla -- and its valuation -- to recoil.