Tesla faces setbacks in bid to shake up industry


Thu, Jul 07, 2016 - Page 10

Tesla Motors Inc’s goal of shaking up the automobile industry has hit a fresh speed bump as disappointing car production suggests a longer wait before it reaches profitability.

Already facing questions over a fatal crash involving its self-driving system and a proposed merger with ailing solar power firm SolarCity, Tesla has now slashed its delivery targets for this year after second-quarter output lagged behind expectations.

Tesla delivered just 14,370 vehicles in the second quarter, below the 17,000 originally forecast, according to figures released over the weekend.

As a result, Tesla trimmed its full-year delivery forecasts to 79,000 from the prior range of 80,000 to 90,000.

Earlier this year, Tesla founder Elon Musk announced an ambitious goal of producing 500,000 electric cars per year by 2018, which would take it from being a niche producer of luxury sedans to a mainstream competitor in the auto industry.

Tesla shares dropped 1.2 percent to US$213.98 on Tuesday.

The weak figures come on the heels of news last week that US auto safety regulators opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving technology after a fatal crash in Florida involving a Model S.

Preliminary reports indicated that the crash happened when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection. Tesla said neither the driver nor the self-drive system noticed the truck and the vehicle ran under the truck, killing the driver.

Some auto experts said the accident showed that Tesla was deploying self-driving mechanisms before they are ready.

“My concern is that this was an avoidable accident,” said Mary Cummings, who heads the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University. “My concern is that this will set the industry back.”

Tesla maintains that Autopilot has been extensively tested and improved as problems have been addressed.

The Florida accident is the first known fatality in more than 209 million kilometers driven, it said, whereas among all vehicles, there is a known fatality every 51.3 million kilometers.

Tesla has also encountered criticism over a proposed US$2.7 billion acquisition of SolarCity Corp, a “renewable energy” company in which Musk has a large stake. The deal, which would unify two companies that together lost US$1.6 billion last year, has raised questions about a conflict of interest because of the involvement of Musk in both firms.

Tesla has said the deal would make Tesla — bringing together electric cars, rechargeable battery technology and solar installation — a leader across all “clean” energy.

Despite the hits, some analysts are still betting on Tesla and Musk, who is promising success with the launch next year of the Model 3 electric car, which is priced toward the middle market.

“Our investment thesis remains intact,” said Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research. “Tesla is creating a new industry.”