Tesla has ‘no credible competition,’ analyst says

Tesla Inc. faces no competition at present, and when it does it will be able to hold its own, analysts at Bernstein said in a note Monday.

And all the hand-wringing about potential rivals for its electric cars glosses over Tesla’s greatest long-term competitive advantage: its “unparalleled brand,” they said.

The rise of competitors by traditional auto makers is often at the heart of a bear case for Tesla TSLA, +1.15%

“But let’s make this clear: there is no actual flood of competition coming,” the analysts, led by Toni Sacconaghi, said. “We tallied up every announced electric vehicle arriving in the U.S. between now and 2022, and the results were stark.”

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The Model 3, which the analysts expect will account for 70% of Tesla’s revenues within two years, “faces no credible competition whatsoever until 2020,” or until Volvo AB VLVLY, +1.29% launches its all-electric Polestar 2 sedan, they said.

The Model S luxury sedan and the Model X luxury SUV will only face two competitors – the Audi Etron Quattro and the Jaguar I-Pace – up until 2020, the analysts said.

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Moreover, incumbent auto makers will help “validate and expand the existing market for electric cars” rather than hampering Tesla with their own electric-vehicle launches, the analysts said.

They drew an analogy with the market for digital cameras in the early 2000s and the current state of the flash storage market.

“In both cases, incumbents ultimately took a majority share… but the markets grew so quickly that new entrants like Sony SNE, +0.25% (in cameras) and Pure Storage PSTG, -2.81% (in flash) still enjoyed exponential growth,” they said.

Read more: Elon Musk shakes up Tesla management after key departures

And, like Apple Inc. AAPL, -1.62% and its iPhone, when Tesla vehicles eventually face real competition Tesla will be “well positioned to defend its share,” they said.

The analysts also demolished a case for General Motors Co.’s GM, +1.04% Chevy Bolt being a competitor for the Model 3.

“While matching the range and price point of the Model 3, the Bolt arguably remains a lower-end car, without the luxury nameplate, the styling, the performance, or even the electronics offered by Tesla,” they said.

“A side-by-side comparison in real life makes the contrast particularly stark – for one thing, the Bolt is a whole 20 inches shorter than the Model 3. GM has been relatively mum on its specific electric vehicle plans going forward, but we do not expect it to sell clear competitors to the Model 3 anytime within the next 3 years.”

What should keep Tesla investors worried? Execution rather than competition, the Bernstein analysts said. Can Tesla build the Model 3 profitably and offer good quality? The Model 3 “is what increasingly matters,” they said.

The analysts kept their equivalent of a neutral rating on Tesla stock and a $325 price target, which represents 11% upside over Monday prices.

Tesla shares traded as low as $288.13 on Monday but recouped losses as the trading day progressed.

The shares have lost 6% this year, compared with gains of 8% and 6% for the S&P 500 index SPX, -0.24% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. DJIA, -0.04% 

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