Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) has a market cap of just over $39 billion. Despite a near panic sell-off of Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) shares over the past week, it has a market cap of about $36 billion. It shows the value of the halo Tesla carries because of its perceived lead in electric cars, both in terms of sales and technology. It is also a sign of ongoing pessimism about Ford’s technology, global sales and current management.
Tesla’s advantages fall into three categories, each of which has faced a challenge recently. It continues to hold the lead in electric car sales in the United States. While other manufacturers have gained, founder Elon Musk said recently that Tesla sales will hit a record this quarter, proof of red-hot demand for its cars, particularly the inexpensive Model 3. It also shows that Tesla’s manufacturing problems have been tamed for the time being.
Tesla is still considered the leader in battery technology and self-driving software. Although Consumer Reports recently challenged the quality of its autonomous driving software, it continues to be an advantage Tesla promotes. There is little evidence that any other car company will bring a distinctly better product to market.
Finally, Tesla has the advantage of Musk himself. Although his leadership has been marred by production delays and a battle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over what he can say about his plans via Twitter, Musk is still the car industry’s greatest salesman and a global brand unto himself.
Ford’s future is mostly clouded by problems. Its sales in the United States are falling. Without its flagship F-Series pickup, the top-selling vehicle in the United States, it would be in deep financial trouble in its home market. Ford’s sales also will be hurt because it has discontinued sales of most of its sedans. Ford’s argument is that they are not a profitable segment of the U.S. market, but its U.S. unit sales will be hammered nevertheless.
Ford has also posted double-digit sales drops in China, the world’s largest car market, for over a year. Despite a slowdown in China’s car sales overall, the market is so large, no manufacturer can afford to do poorly there. Ford shows no sign of inroads with new models or a stellar management team.
CEO Jim Hackett, a former furniture company executive from his time as the head of Steelcase, has been in his current role since May 2017. He was an odd choice by Ford Executive Chair William Clay Ford Jr., who runs the company on behalf of its founding family, which still holds control position in the manufacturer’s shares. Hackett has not had success as he has tried to articulate Ford’s plans for the future, one driven primarily by electric and self-driving vehicles. Hackett said he could cut Ford costs and recently laid off 7,000 office workers. It is widely assumed this round will be followed by others. However, few believe that cost cuts alone will provide a better future.
Tesla’s market cap could drop by over half, if sales drop sharply, according to several analysts. In the meantime, its market cap is close to that of one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world.