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Unpacking Tesla’s 2023 Earnings

Unpacking Tesla's 2023 Earnings

The News: Tesla announced fourth quarter (Q4) and full year (FY) 2023 earnings earlier this week. Read the press release here.

Unpacking Tesla’s 2023 Earnings

Analyst Take: In a year marked by technological advancements and strategic shifts, Tesla’s 2023 earnings report offers a comprehensive view into the future of electric vehicles (EVs) and AI. As the company navigates through a landscape of innovation and competition, its latest financial and operational data reveal both challenges and opportunities. This analysis delves into Tesla’s performance by the numbers, explores the significance of its business decisions, and anticipates the impact of its trajectory on the broader EV market.

By the Numbers: Tesla’s Financial and Operational Performance

Tesla earnings were a mixed bag. First, the good: Tesla produced approximately 495,000 vehicles and delivered over 484,000 in Q4 alone. The annual figures are even more impressive, with 1.85 million vehicles produced and 1.81 million delivered, for 35% and 38% year-over-year (YoY) growth, respectively.

Now, the not-so-good: Despite its impressive double-digit unit growth performance, Tesla reported a revenue growth of only 3% in Q4 2023, reaching $25.17 billion (slightly below the $25.6 billion expectation). The company’s earnings per share (EPS) stood at 71 cents, adjusted, compared with the expected 74 cents. Despite these numbers, auto revenue saw a very modest 1% increase over the previous year.

A significant contributing factor to the delta between unit shipments and revenue was the reduced average selling price of Tesla’s vehicles, itself largely due to significant price cuts globally in the second half of the year. Tesla’s net income more than doubled to $7.9 billion for the quarter, however, buoyed by a $5.9 billion one-time noncash tax benefit.

Analysis of the Business Performance

Given that some of the strength of Tesla’s vehicle shipment growth performance in 2023 can be attributed to aggressive price cuts, that increased competition from US, European, and Asian automakers is eating into Tesla’s market share, and that the EV segment’s growth in the US appears to be slowing down, the prospect of a repeat of—let alone an improvement in—Tesla’s YoY performance continuing into next year seems drought with obstacles. Tesla’s price-cutting strategy is the kind of magic bullet that cannot be fired over and over again, and the gap between Tesla’s 38% YoY growth in unit sales versus its 1% YoY revenue growth suggests that the company is going to have to get a lot more creative to incentivize the market to drive another 12 months of 38% YoY growth.

Looking for alternate runways to grow, the company’s Full Self Driving (FSD) technology, which could make its RoboTaxi ambitions come true, could help fuel demand for Teslas next year. Its Dojo supercomputer, which is expected to significantly advance Tesla’s autonomous driving (AD) capabilities and FSD feature, could also be a significant differentiator for the company as other automakers and their ADAS/AD platform vendors work to catch up.

One of Tesla’s biggest competitive advantages is that it understood early that capturing and analyzing data from its vehicles was the key to scaling and accelerating its AD solutions’ machine learning (ML), and that head start continues to pay off in spades to this day. Despite some setbacks and negative media coverage, Tesla remains by far the company to beat when it comes to ADAS/AD performance, and this gives the company a significant competitive edge against every other EV competitor, especially in the same price tiers.

The company signaling that it anticipates notably lower vehicle volume growth in 2024 is on par with our analysis. Tesla’s focus on launching “the next-generation vehicle” in Texas—a strategic shift toward more advanced and potentially profitable models—reflects the new realities of the EV market: Pricing pressures from Asian, European, and US EV makers in Tesla’s three most critical markets: China, Europe, and the US.

Looking Ahead: Tesla’s Position in the EV Market and Industry Implications

Despite a slowdown in growth projections for 2024, Tesla’s expansion of Giga Nevada and the planned construction of Giga Mexico indicate a commitment to not only maintaining its market leadership but also fighting back against challenges to its enviable EV market share.

Tesla’s influence extends beyond its own product line, but Musk’s suggestion that other car companies should license Tesla’s FSD technology highlights its potential impact on the automotive industry seems a bit off target. Qualcomm and Mobileye’s ADAS solutions, which are accelerating their drive toward full AD capabilities, present attractive alternatives to Tesla’s FSD technology, and as Qualcomm’s Digital Chassis begins to morph into a full stack offering for automakers, Musk’s hopes that the market will look to license Tesla’s FSD solution at scale seems unfounded. Additionally, given the automotive industry’s long design cycles and their impact on product roadmaps, Tesla’s ADAS head start may not be a factor for much longer.

Tesla’s success in significantly reducing production times—as seen with the updated Model 3 at Giga Shanghai—sets a new standard for efficiency in vehicle manufacturing, however. But while the company’s lean production model remains a market advantage, especially against US and European competitors, Chinese EV maker BYD is closing the gap and starting to make that advantage moot in the Chinese market—but within a few years, should BYD engineer a successful penetration of the European market, Tesla could find itself fighting BYD’s growth there as well as in China.

Quick note about Tesla’s Cybertruck: For now, Tesla’s Cybertruck seems to be little more than a niche product, and as such, is unlikely to impact sales for other Tesla models one way or another. In other words, however long it takes Tesla engineers to perfect their design and solve some of the quality issues reported on by users and the press in recent months does not seem all that relevant to overall vehicle sales for the company. From a marketing and PR perspective, it seems that Tesla’s strategy with its Cybertruck follows two parallel lovebrand-temed tracks: “Polarizing designs are good for business,” and “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” For better or for worse, Cybertruck makes sense as a product extension of Musk’s own controversial brand: You either love it or hate it. And this ability to shake consumers out of their default state of indifference keeps Tesla relevant in an otherwise oversaturated automotive market.

Tesla’s focus on AI and robotics also helps set the company apart from other automakers. The Optimus humanoid robot, described as the most sophisticated humanoid robot under development, speaks to Tesla’s ambitions beyond the automotive market, and conveys Musk’s ability to invest in new market opportunities years before his competitors. To be clear, Tesla is far from the only company developing advanced humanoid robots with built-in AI capabilities, but Tesla stands apart from its robotics competitors in several critical areas: manufacturing expertise and scale; back and front end logistics; IP portfolio, sales, marketing, and distribution footprint; and brand/market recognition. These are still the very early days of pre-commercialization for humanoid robots, and whether demand for the product category will ever scale enough to make the category financially viable remains an open question, but Musk clearly sees the opportunity much in the same way as he saw EVs and autonomous vehicles before the market was ready for them. Even if we are a decade away from sharing space with humanoid robots, Musk’s robotics and AI bet is already intriguing and worth taking seriously. As competition in the robotics space will likely start heating up in the next 18 to 24 months, Tesla will be one of the companies to watch.

Tesla’s focus on energy storage, solar energy generation, and EV charging networks also points to a promising integrated approach to sustainable transportation and energy solutions and provides additional on-ramps to revenue growth and install bases for the company, particularly as renewable energy solutions and EV adoption continue to scale.

In Summary

In conclusion, Tesla’s 2023 earnings report presents a company at a critical juncture in its growth journey. Faced with multilateral challenges to its market leadership in the EV space from other automakers, automotive platform vendors, as well as to its growth and profitability from downward pricing pressures and a slackening in the growth rate of EV adoption, Tesla is making strategic course adjustments by doubling down on AI research, autonomous driving performance, and strategic expansions in support of both its automotive business and adjacent opportunities such as energy generation and storage and robotics. While that may not be enough to deliver 2023’s unit growth 2 years in a row, 2024 could see Tesla find wins in other areas:

  • With a little fiscal and messaging discipline, Tesla could leverage its FSD technology to improve its profitability while maintaining positive net YoY growth—even if it does not quite match 2023’s 35%.
  • Tesla’s impressive H2 2023 performance in the European market should carry into 2024, providing positive revenue uplift for even if demand growth for Tesla vehicles in the US market softens.
  • Tesla’s Supercharger network remains one of Tesla’s more underrated business opportunities. Its global footprint currently consists of roughly 6,000 stations and 55,000 individual charging stalls, with 1,270 new Supercharging stations and over 12,400 individual stalls added in 2023.
  • Another point of note is Tesla’s decision to start selling DC fast charging solutions to other charging networks around the world in Q4 2023, which signals both Tesla’s ability and willingness to leverage its IP and diversified product portfolio to generate new scalable revenue streams as needed.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other Insights from The Futurum Group:

EV Segment Rebound in H2 2023 Sets the Stage for a 2024 ADAS Showdown

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Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.

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