Either Wall Street is wildly enthusiastic about the future prospects of Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) or pessimistic about Ford Motor Co.’s (NYSE: F). It could be some mix of the two that has brought Tesla’s market cap of $43 billion, which is 88% of Ford’s $49 billion.
The contrast in size between the two is massive. Tesla barely produced 83,000 cars last year. Ford produced over 6.6 million. Even if Tesla hits its near-term forecasts, its production will barely top 500,000 in two years.
Tesla claims it is on the cutting edge of not just electric cars, but also self-driving vehicles. Ford last year announced it would invest $1 billion in Argo AI, a venture that also includes Uber and Google. This is only one Ford initiative. Last year Ford said it would build autonomous cars for ride sharing and that production levels would be significant. As it made this announcement, management said:
This year, Ford will triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet to be the largest test fleet of any automaker – bringing the number to about 30 self-driving Fusion Hybrid sedans on the roads in California, Arizona and Michigan, with plans to triple it again next year.
If the world of self-driving and autonomous cars comes as quickly as optimistic experts suggest, Ford has two problems. The first is that the electric car and self-driving car sectors are crowded with at least two dozen major start-ups and every large car company in the world. There is not a single guarantee Ford will be in the vanguard of this work. If not, it will have spent billions of dollars and not taken a leader’s position.
Ironically, Ford’s other problem may be its legacy business, which is the development, production and sales of those 6.6 million cars. The vast majority of them are gasoline driven and configured to be driven by humans. Reconfiguring a company for the future, when it is as big as Ford, may be nearly impossible.
Tesla maybe overvalued. There is certainly a case to be made that is true. However, its stock price was about what it is today in both August 2014 and June 2015. Its market cap level is “resilient.”
Ford’s stock price story is less attractive by a wide margin. Over the past two years its stock has fallen 23% to $12.50. Over the same period, Tesla’s has risen 32% to $269. The S&P 500 is up 11% in that time.
The Tesla and Ford market cap gap is not a fluke.