“Tesla is cooking with gas while Renault-Nissan has dropped the ball,” told me a media colleague the other day. His name shall remain unmentioned, not only due to his use of inappropriately mixed metaphors. His comment made me dig up some numbers, and the result of the digging is that the Renault-Nissan Alliance remains the world’s EV leader, selling more than double the number of electric cars the allegedly gas-cooking Tesla could move.
California carmaker Tesla is sitting on, at last count, 373,000 pre-orders for its more affordably priced Model 3 sedan. A confidential study conducted for a major automaker shows that Tesla’s Model 3 has changed the market long before its release, legitimizing electric vehicles as a mass market choice.
The typical aspiring Model 3 buyer drives a Toyota, not a BMW, the study says. Those customers are looking to switch because they think they can finally afford cutting-edge technology previously limited to the rich and famous. Tesla, however, may be ill able to afford the customers it’s attracting in droves: Toyota owners are among the most demanding, and they will be confronted with a brand notorious for its lack of reliability. Sound the collision alarm.
“The challenge of reading large volumes of Tesla coverage is that it tends to be either rabidly positive or sharply negative,” writes the always insightful John Voelker in Green Car Reports. Indeed, Tesla reporting seems more at loggerheads than Breitbart and the New York Times. Looking for fact-based and sober reading material, I found some unexpectedly astute literature, explaining in great detail what can go wrong at Tesla Motors: It is the company’s annual report Form 10-K, filed with the SEC last week. Some say that Musk & Co. don’t know what they are getting into. Not true as a little reading will prove. Tesla knows exactly what can go wrong, and it is a lot.
Over the signatures of Elon Musk and CFO Jason Wheeler (who announced his sudden departure from Tesla a week before he signed the 10-K ) Tesla enumerates on 15 tightly-spaced pages the many obstacles standing in the way of Tesla’s success. There may be more “risks and uncertainties not currently known to us.” 10-K usually are dry reading. Tesla’s annual report is the Stephen King of SEC filings. Here are just a few highlights.
A cornerstone of the Tesla story may be crumbling amid indications that the company’s envisioned battery price advantage could evaporate long before the company’s Gigafactory has gone into full swing. An analyst note from Morgan Stanley says that Chinese battery suppliers may cut their prices by 35%-40% in 2017, while still making a profit. On Thursday, shares of electric vehicle battery maker Samsung SDI dropped 4% on the news, while competitor LG Chem was down 1.8%. Tesla stock was unchanged in after-hours trading.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda has assembled an all-star cast to run Toyota’s new electric car division, and put himself in charge of it, the company said today in an innocuous-looking change of personnel note.
As a sign of the importance of the new venture, Toyota’s EV department is headed by three of Toyota’s top managers. Akio Toyoda is joined by Toyota EVPs and board members Mitsuhisa Kato and Shigeki Terashi, both central figures in Toyota’s high tech research and development.
Yes, you have read right. Toyota has developed what it says is “the world’s first method for observing the behavior of lithium ions in an electrolyte when a battery charges and discharges.” Able to observe those ions for the first time in real time, Toyota researchers think they have found the reason why a battery ages. Once the breakthrough is commercialized, which could take “two to three years,” a new lithium ion battery could improve the battery-powered range of an electric vehicle by 15%, Dr. Hisao Yamashige of Toyota’s advanced R&D and engineering division told a small group of reporters this morning at the company’s Tokyo HQ.
While carmaker after carmaker decided to electrify their cars, Toyota remained the lone outlier. For that, it has become the favorite whipping post of electric vehicle proponents trying to paint a picture of Big Car in cahoots with Big Oil. Find a new post to flog. Toyota today confirmed that it is looking at making battery electric vehicles a part of its alternative powertrain portfolio, never mind that the message was sent with the carefully crafted circumspection of a CFO’s forward looking statements.
This Tokyo morning, the Nikkei surprised its readership with the news that world’s largest carmaker Toyota will change its battery-skeptic posture, and that it will “start mass-producing electric vehicles by 2020, hoping to expand its lineup of green automobiles beyond hybrid and fuel-cell cars.”
Readers of Forbes have known this since June, when the Chief Engineer for Toyota’s hybrid Prius range, Kouji Toyoshima, told me that Toyota “would like to use more electricity to power our cars.”