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Investors are reassessing the premises that justified Tesla’s astronomical stock price and made the founder, Elon Musk, the richest person in the world.

Tesla’s valuation of 1 trillion dollars only made sense if investors believed that the electric car company was on its way to dominate the car industry the way Apple controls smartphones or Amazon controls online shopping.

But Tesla’s shares have fallen more than 40 percent since April 4 – a much steeper fall than the broad market, and have evaporated more than $ 400 billion in market capitalization. And the tumbling has drawn attention to the risks the company faces. These include growing competition, a lack of new products, lawsuits accusing the company of racial discrimination and significant production problems at Tesla̵[ads1]7;s Shanghai plant, which it uses to supply Asia and Europe.

Mr. Musk has not helped the stock price by making his bid to buy Twitter a financial soap opera. His antics have reinforced the perception that Tesla lacks an independent board that can stop him from doing things that could harm the company’s business and brand.

“From a corporate governance perspective, Tesla has many red flags,” said Andrew Poreda, a senior analyst specializing in socially responsible investments at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm in Austin, Texas. “There are almost no controls and balances.”

Even longtime Tesla optimists are in doubt. Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, has been one of Tesla’s most steadfast believers on Wall Street. But on Thursday, Wedbush lowered the target price for Tesla – the company’s estimate of the shares’ fair market value based on future earnings – to $ 1,000 from $ 1,400. Mr. Ives cited Tesla’s problems in China, where shutdowns have limited access to key parts and materials and demand for cars.

“This is a new reality for Tesla in China, and the market is reassessing the risk,” said Mr. Ives.

Production problems in China have undermined one of the reasons for making Tesla the world’s most valuable car company. Tesla vehicles have been a hit with Chinese buyers, fueling hopes of overcharged growth in the world’s largest car market. Tesla’s market share in China peaked at 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2022, approaching luxury car manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

But supply chain headaches in China are exacerbated by weaker consumer demand, said Michael Dunne, CEO of ZoZoGo, which advises companies on the electric car market.

Chinese consumers “are nervous, they are worried about the future,” Mr. Dunne said. “It’s a double genre Tesla confronts in China.”

Tesla shares are responding in part to the same forces that are raging in stock markets around the world: war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, the threat of recession, chaos in the supply chain and rising inflation. But Tesla shares have fallen much more than other Silicon Valley giants such as Apple or Alphabet, the company that owns Google.

Tesla accounted for three quarters of the electric cars sold in the United States last year. The company is several years ahead of the competition in battery technology and software. But two models – Model 3 sedan and Model Y sports utility vehicle – accounted for 95 percent of Tesla’s sales. The next consumer vehicle, a pickup, has been delayed many times and is not expected until next year at the earliest.

It is an axiom in the automotive industry that new models drive sales. And competition from the likes of Hyundai, Ford and Volkswagen is increasing, giving drivers many more choices.

Jesse Toprak, a veteran of the automotive industry who is chief analyst at Autonomy, a company that offers electric cars with a subscription, said that Tesla’s market share will fall below 40 percent by the end of 2023, although sales will continue to grow as the total market. expandable.

“They want a smaller share of a larger pot,” Mr. Toprak said. “But their near-monopoly on electric car sales in the United States will slowly diminish.”

Tesla is already facing tough competition in Europe, where electric cars account for 13 percent of new car sales. It warns of what could happen in the United States, where sales of battery-powered cars are just beginning to decline. Volkswagen, which has invested heavily in electric vehicles, sold 56,000 battery-powered cars in Western Europe during the first three months of the year, just behind Tesla, which sold 58,000, according to figures compiled by Schmidt Automotive Research in Berlin.

Tesla’s ability to serve the European market will improve as a new plant near Berlin increases production. In the United States and elsewhere, the company has benefited from fanatically loyal buyers who view Mr. Musk as a visionary and are willing to wait months or years for the company’s cars.

But as electric cars are gaining popularity due to sky-high gasoline prices, the next wave of customers may not be as tolerant or as in love with Mr. Musk. “The next generation of buyers will be average Joes who buy electric cars because it makes economic sense to them,” said Mr. Toprak. “Tesla’s brand image will be less useful.”

Credit…Aly Song / Reuters

Tesla’s image is under pressure in ways that could harm the carmaker among the environmentally conscious, politically liberal customers who have long been its largest customer base. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing Tesla and accusing it of allowing racial discrimination and harassment to flourish at its plant in Fremont, California, near San Francisco. Tesla disputes the lawsuit.

In another battle, the S&P 500 ESG Index, a list of companies that meet certain environmental, social and governance standards, Tesla released last month. S&P said they were disturbed by allegations of racial discrimination and poor working conditions at the company’s plant in Fremont.

Mr Musk reacted to S & P’s decision by writing on Twitter that the movement to apply environmental, social and governance standards to companies was a “scam” that “has been armed by false social justice fighters”.

Mr. Musk followed that Twitter post by declaring that he had exchanged allegiance to the Democratic Party, which he said had “become the party of division and hatred”, and now wanted to vote for Republicans. Politically charged statements like these will certainly alienate some car buyers.

“The more political he becomes, the more it can begin to influence buyers,” said Carla Bailo, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Ann Arbor, Mich.

Mr Musk and Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Management’s turnover is another risk. Mr. Musk is a notoriously demanding boss who has warned Twitter employees that “work ethic expectations would be extreme” if he took over the social media platform.

The deal with Tesla is obvious. Many of its former senior executives are prominent in the startup scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Examples include Celina Mikolajczak, Production Manager at the new battery manufacturer QuantumScape, who has previously been involved in developing batteries at Tesla, and Gene Berdichevsky, another former Tesla battery developer who is CEO of Sila Nanotechnologies. Sila announced this week that they will supply materials for advanced batteries to Mercedes-Benz.

Lucid, the manufacturer of the only electric model that beat Tesla in the Environmental Protection Agency’s tests of how far an electric car can go at full charge, was founded by Peter Rawlinson, a former top Tesla engineer until he disagreed with Mr. Musk. Lucid’s headquarters are located in Newark, California, a short drive from Tesla’s Fremont plant.

Mr. Musk’s admirers say he has helped promote emission-free vehicles by giving the industry talent. But critics see a risk that Tesla will never develop a stable team of experienced executives who can run the company should something happen to Mr. Musk.

“You can not treat your workers badly in a tight labor market like we have,” said Mr. Poreda of Sage Advisory. “A bright man can not make his vision a reality without many truly smart people.”

In the midst of this litany of problems and risks, Mr. Musk has spent time acquiring Twitter, although lately he seems to have different thoughts about the deal. The influx of social media has made some investors wonder why the boss spends so much time writing messages on Twitter while the world is on fire.

“It’s just a feeling,” said Mr. Ives of Wedbush, “that the pilot on the plane is watching a Netflix program as you go through a massive thunderstorm.”

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