Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) held its shareholder meeting under a bit of a cloud. Tesla’s Model 3 rollout has been marred by delays and quality complaints. TSLA stock has rebounded from late March lows, but it’s still down 16% over the past year, and some 25% from September highs.
The meeting itself doesn’t appear to have changed sentiment much in what truly has become a battleground stock. TSLA stock dropped 1.9% on the day, before gaining about 1% in after-hours trading. But there were a few big pieces of news in the meeting.
The first was that shareholders voted down proposals that could have undercut some of CEO Elon Musk’s power. Both a proposal to split the CEO and chairman roles, and another to force an independent chairman, were voted down, despite support from outside proxy advisers. In addition, three directors challenged by an investor group were reelected.
Secondly, Musk reiterated that the company was on track to meet its production goal of 5,000 Model 3 units per week by the end of the month. That appears good news given Tesla’s struggles to meet Model 3 targets so far.
And finally, Tesla announced that it would be building a new production facility in China — its first such effort outside the U.S. Given the importance of the international market — and the Chinese market in particular — to Tesla, it’s an important step for the company. But as is the case with so many aspects of Tesla, the question is: will it work?
Tesla Heads to Shanghai
Details on the move remain rather thin. According to USA Today, the official announcement won’t be made for several weeks. According to the paper, Musk “appeared to surprise” Tesla’s worldwide head of sales, Robin Ren, by even mentioning the development.
Ren said that discussions with Chinese officials have been “really great.” When the factory will be built isn’t clear. But reports from the meeting suggest that it will combine a manufacturing facility and a gigafactory for battery production, unlike the U.S. setup. (The cars are produced in Fremont, California, while the gigafactory is situated east of Reno, Nevada.)
Obviously, such a facility will be at least several years out. But it is part of Tesla’s plan to, eventually, become a worldwide manufacturer. Musk said the company would like to have as many as 10-12 plants worldwide. And Tesla hopes to pick a site in Europe by the end of the year, adding to its reach.
More Problems for TSLA Stock
At the moment, however, it’s hard not take the Shanghai news without at least a full shaker of salt. Ren told the audience that “the cars we’ll be building in that factory will be incredible.” But investors — and consumers — already are clearly nervous about how not “incredible” current Model 3s are.
The excitement about Shanghai and Europe, meanwhile, is belied by the fact that barely two months ago, Tesla had to walk back its overseas launch dates. It’s the latest in a long line of broken promises.
As James Brumley pointed out last month, Musk has criticized the media but could end the criticism simply by meeting some of those targets. For instance, the 5,000-per-week production target was supposed to be hit last year, as Brumley noted.
Even beyond Shanghai, much of the annual meeting commentary seems to ignore the real problems of the present for the unproven successes of the future. Musk talked up the Model Y crossover, supposedly coming in 2018. But the long-promised $35,000 Model 3 version isn’t even available yet.
Autopilot’s performance, per Musk, is supposed to “increase exponentially over the next 6 to 12 months.” But Musk already is criticizing anyone who dares show any skepticism toward its current performance. And Tesla needs to hurry, with Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), among many others, already on its tail.
Tesla simply needs to improve its execution. And until then, neither Musk nor shareholders should be talking up next steps.
Caution Toward TSLA Stock
To be sure, a factory in Shanghai would be a good thing for Tesla and the owners of TSLA stock. Producing automobiles locally would save on freight and labor costs. (That’s why Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) have plants in the country.) It’d also avoid Chinese tariffs on imports.
The problem for investors at the moment is that they simply can’t trust Musk. There are too many missed targets. There’s been too much deflection of late. Until Tesla gets the Model 3 fixed, it’s far too early to even consider the potential of operations in Shanghai. Because if Tesla doesn’t get the Model 3 fixed, it may not be around long enough to venture into China at all.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.