Tesla was founded in 2003 by American engineers and entrepreneurs Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning as an automaker dedicated to designing and manufacturing electric vehicles. They also envisioned their startup as a tech company that designs its own proprietary motor, the battery technology, and the computer software.
Elon Musk joined the fold in 2004 and became the largest shareholder of Tesla with an investment amounting to USD 6.5 million. He also became the chairperson of its board of directors during the same year and eventually became its chief executive in 2008. Leadership under Musk saw Tesla positioning itself as a true tech company with business interests in manufacturing electric vehicles and providing clean energy solutions.
The company has since launched numerous models of electric vehicles while also designing and marketing energy storage devices based on lithium-ion battery technology for residential and commercial customers, as well as solar energy systems based on photovoltaics for residential, commercial, and industrial market segments.
Situational Analysis of Tesla: Insights Into Its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
A situational analysis of Tesla using the SWOT Framework provides insights into the key elements of its business strategies, especially its competitive advantages, in addition to its notable weaknesses and the opportunities and threats it faces.
Note that the company has become one of the most valuable companies, the most valuable automaker, and the largest supplier of energy storage devices in the world. It is a leader in the electric vehicle market and has also become an innovator in commercializing lithium-ion batteries for large-scale applications.
The following are the strengths of Tesla:
• Vertical Integration Strategy: The company has utilized a vertical integration strategy that has equipped it with capabilities to manage risks that come from supply chain disruptions while also minimizing its production costs. Most automakers outsource 80 percent of components to suppliers to focus on engine design. Tesla produces relevant vehicle components, including the batteries. Note that it uses the same technology to develop and produce batteries for its energy storage business.
• Technological Capabilities: Another strength of Tesla is that it maximizes its technological capabilities to achieve its full revenue and profit potential. Note that the same capabilities are integral to its vertical integration strategy. In addition, aside from using its technologies in its value chain, it also licenses them even to its competitors for the purpose of accelerating the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and advancing the transition to sustainable energy.
• Access to Capital Markets: It is a publicly-traded company and has had notable financial performance over the years that enable it to raise capital from financial markets such as the stock market and the bond market. The company takes advantage of its access to capital to improve and expand its operations and fund its research and development initiatives, as well as for the critical acquisitions of companies or their technologies to expand and improve further its value chain.
• Low Marketing Expenses: The company does not spend on advertising and does not depend on franchised auto dealerships, unlike other automakers. It depends on its own distribution network to promote and sell its electric vehicles, as well as its energy storage devices and solar energy systems to its target markets. This marketing strategy allows it to optimize the costs associated with specific marketing expenses such as product placement or distribution and sales promotion.
Diversified Product Offerings: Another strength of Tesla is that it also maximizes its earnings potential further through a closed product ecosystem similar to the product strategy of Apple. Note that it generates revenues from its after-sales services to include maintenance and repair or other vehicle servicing requirement, the maintenance of its network of charging stations, software updates and upgrades, subscription-based services related to wireless connectivity, and auto insurance.
Note that the company has figured into numerous controversies and has faced several criticisms. These range from delays in production and order fulfillment, as well as product defects that resulted in recalls, to criticisms over its business practices, specific issues regarding its labor practices, and different facets of its leadership.
The following are the weaknesses of Tesla:
• Workplace Culture and Conditions: One of the notable criticisms of Tesla is allegations about its workplace culture and working conditions. It has received numerous complaints regarding harassment and racial discrimination transpiring in several offices and facilities. Musk has also been criticized for his erratic behavior that prompted some of his employees to leave the company. It has also been noted as having a high level of executive turnover compared with other tech companies.
• Confusion About Its Identity: The company brands itself as a tech company. Note that its stock price tends to move similarly to other tech companies. However, considering its core businesses, other critics have noted that it remains an automaker pursuing other business interests similar to other automakers such as Honda and Toyota. This can confuse some investors who tend to plan their investments and make decisions based on the identifiable characteristics of prospective business organizations.
• Prevailing Production Challenges: Another weakness of Tesla is the prevailing challenges it faces to improve and advance further its products. The company struggles to deploy self-autonomous solutions for its electric vehicles. Its battery technology still needs a lot of improvements. Note that it also struggles to mass-produce its electric vehicles and energy storage devices due to the complication and resulting technical limitations of its manufacturing processes.
Tesla is committed to accelerating the transition of the world to sustainable energy through electric vehicles, energy storage solutions, and solar energy systems. This core mission has the potential to become profitable further because of emerging concerns about the ongoing climate emergency and the leanings toward sustainability.
The following are the opportunities for Tesla:
• Future of Autonomous Driving: Developments in the future of autonomous driving are expected to advance further in the future with specific advances in artificial intelligence systems, including machine learning and image processing, and in mobile network technologies such as further improvements beyond the sub-6 GHz 5G and mmWave 5G standards. These create an opportunity for Tesla to become at the forefront of the self-driving vehicle segment through its ongoing research initiatives.
• Transition to Sustainable Energy: Several developed and developing countries have pursued the development of alternative sources of energy to address the climate crisis and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. This would mean increased utilization of electric vehicles in the future that would outpace gas-fueled combustion engine vehicles, as well as an increase in demand for energy storage devices for intermittent energy sources such as solar power, tidal power, and wind power.
• Lowering Production Costs: The company has succeeded in bringing down the cost of producing electric vehicles through its vertical integration strategy and improvements in its manufacturing processes. Developments in relevant technologies, advances in manufacturing processes, and wider mass adoption in the future can bring down the production costs of these vehicles further in the future. The same is true for its energy storage devices and solar power solutions.
• Expansion of Markets and Products: It can also expand further to untapped or immature geographic markets in the world to include emerging markets or developing countries where the utilization of electric vehicles, energy storage devices, and solar power is low. The company can also diversify its business further and expand its product offerings to include the development and production of other types of electric vehicles and other alternative energy systems.
It is true that Tesla remains the most valuable automaker in the world. Its lithium-ion batteries have also captured a substantial portion of the market share. The fact remains, however, that the markets it serves are open to the different forces of competition including the intensity of competitive rivalry and the threats from new entrants.
The following are the threats to Tesla:
• Developments From Competitors: There are other automakers who have been developing and producing electric vehicles. Some of these have a substantial presence in their geographic markets. Consider Honda and Toyota as examples. Both remain recognized automakers in Asian countries. Chinese automakers have introduced cheap small-sized electric vehicles. The possible transition to electric vehicles in the future has also compelled automakers to level up their capabilities.
• Impact of Regulations and Policies: Another threat to Tesla is the prevailing and emerging regulations and policies in different jurisdictions that can affect its financial standing and overall perception of its corporate image. Possible issues that it can face in the future are problems related to taxation, adherence to evolving environmental policies, orders to improve the workplace conditions in its offices and production facilities, and other legal controversies involving its supply chain, among others.
• Legal Problems From Liabilities: Most jurisdictions have laws to protect the rights of consumers. Automakers have been subjected to lawsuits due to large-scale product liability issues airing from product defects. Some of these defects resulted in the destruction of properties and loss of life. Note that Tesla has encountered numerous problems with its electric vehicles that center on safety issues and include fire risks, failures in the brake systems, and sudden unintended acceleration, among others.
• Exposure to Supply Chain Issues: The company still depends on third-party suppliers. No company can be 100 percent independent from outsourcing. Consider its electric vehicles as an example. The global supply chain disruption that started in 2020 has worsened the global chip shortage. Semiconductors are integral to its vehicles. Its energy storage devices depend on finite raw materials. Shortages and even disruptions can affect its production schedules and production costs.
• Impacts of Macroeconomic Factors: It is also important to mention that Tesla is not recession-proof although it has demonstrated resilience from economic downturns. Of course, considering the fact that its major revenues depend on the sales of its end-use products such as electric vehicles and batteries, its overall financial performance is still dependent on the purchasing power of its consumers. Factors such as inflation, foreign exchange rates, and unemployment rate can affect its sales.