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商业 - 汽车

电动汽车生产商Tesla:不成功则成仁

Alex Taylor III 2011年09月30日

本周六,汽车制造商Telsa Motors将进行最新车型S的试驾,这也意味着数千名预订用户将有机会一睹该公司第二款零排放电动四门轿车的风采。

    Telsa公司 S车型

    本周六,汽车制造商Telsa Motors将进行最新车型S的试驾,这也意味着数千名预订用户将有机会一睹该公司第二款零排放电动四门轿车的风采。Telsa公司声称该车性能卓越,分析人士和投资者也在密切关注该车是否真的像厂家说的那样卓尔不凡。

    该车将于2012年年中上市,7座S车型对于汽车工业来说无异于一场重大的变革。该车的性能目标着实可圈可点:零到60英里加速时间为5.6秒,最高时速为120英里,基本款车型充电一次至少可以行驶160英里。

    然而,与Tesla不同寻常的发展模式相比,这款新车的表现仍逊色不少。尽管相对于成熟的汽车制造商而言,Tesla在工程资源和批量生产效率方面毫无优势,但根据公司的计划,这款新车的售价将等同或略低于大型汽车制造商的竞争车型。该车的起价为57,400美元,与同样款式的奥迪A6的售价持平。

    在这样的定价水平与对手展开竞争,Telsa将不得不挑战传统的汽车行业经济学,包括:

    • 规模经济效应对于汽车工业尤为重要。汽车的规模化生产有利于分摊研发、工程、制造、营销以及销售所带来的固定成本。然而Tesla自成立之日起总共才销售了不到2,000辆车,而根据公司的计划,S车型的年产量也仅为20,000台。

    • Telsa推出的第一款车Roadster是根据莲花(Lotus)Elise车型改造而来,而且该车的部分组装工作由英格兰莲花工厂完成。与之不同的是,新推出的电动车型S是该公司独立研发的全新车型。汽车巨头在新车研发上的花费往往高达上亿美元。据估计,通用汽车(General Motors)在雪佛兰Volt车型研发上的花销达到了10亿美元。因此就资源来说,Tesla公司显然要紧张得多。为节省开支,大型公司往往以竞标的方式从外部供应商采购部件,并将相同部件用于多款不同的车型。而Tesla则宣称公司计划自行生产70%的部件。

    • 大多数汽车制造商都不会把搭载全新动力集成的全新车型交由新的组装工厂生产。同时处理多项新任务是一项十分复杂的工程,往往会导致延期交付和质量问题。Tesla在经验方面本身就先天不足,现在却试图利用通用汽车废弃的生产车间同时完成以上三项任务。这个难度堪比波音(Boeing)要从帆布-木架结构的飞机直接跨越到787梦幻客机的生产。

    Tesla认为,公司拥有“汽车构架的整体变更”的创新、Roadster车型上所积累的“可靠的且已通过路况测试的技术”经验以及“先进的电气技术”,完全可以弥补这些不足。然而汽车行业面临来自于数十家汽车制造商和成千上万的供应商的激烈竞争,专有技术很难永葆青春。Tesla目前所拥有的任何创新成果在很短的时间内可能就会成为行业的共同做法。Tesla未来的竞争优势何在,分析人士也一直在琢磨。

    首席执行官艾伦•马斯克坚信公司能在2013年实现盈利。公司发言人指出最大的保证在于,标价为67,000美元和77,000美元并配有大号电池的豪华S车型将带来25%的毛利润。尽管他也承认“将产能扩大30倍”有难度,但是马斯克对媒体称:“S车型量产之后不久”Tesla公司就能盈利。

    汽车行业的经济学使Tesla公司左右为难。为了将产量提升至合理水平并分摊开销,公司将不得不降低售价。但是售价降低将导致利润缩水。如果Tesla决定通过提高售价来赚回成本,那么汽车的产量将急剧下降。

    乐观的证券分析师认为,如果实车具有厂家所宣传的指标和性能,这款电动车将在汽车行业掀起一场革命,这一前景令他们倍感振奋,因此对以上担忧不以为意。他们认为Tesla有望挑战底特律汽车三巨头并一跃成为第四巨头。美国能源部(U.S. Department of Energy)也受到感染,在去年为Tesla公司担保了4.65亿美元的贷款,并说服戴姆勒(Daimler)和丰田(Toyota)加大对Tesla的投资。

    但目前的数据仍不容乐观,而且Tesla也需要尽快实现盈利。2009年,公司亏损5,570万美元;2010年达到1.543亿美元;2011年上半年达1.08亿美元。部分华尔街人士认为Tesla的扭亏速度将是惊人的。大多数汽车要在量产后的第三个年头才能赚回开发成本,但是他们预计S车型实现盈利只需要18个月的时间。

    美国银行美林证券(Bank of America Merrill Lynch)高级分析师史蒂夫•米卢诺维奇在8月8日发表的一篇报道中写道:“汽车行业在未来10年中的变化将超过过去100年变化的总和。电动汽车(EV)代表着一个新的领域,而Tesla可能成为这个领域的领头羊,因为当新的技术涌现之时,新进入行业的公司获胜的机会更大。在我们看来,首席执行官艾伦•马斯克有望成为汽车行业的史蒂夫•乔布斯,既具有远见卓识,又能为股东管理、创造价值。”

    或许有这种可能。但也有可能,他将成为另一个安迪•凯,亚当•欧斯彭或者克莱夫•辛克莱尔,他们都是史蒂夫•乔布斯同时代人,当年都是个人计算机行业的先驱人物,最后却中途折戟。

    This Saturday, Tesla Motors is holding a test drive to reveal the latest versions of its second zero-emission automobile, the all-electric four-door Model S to several thousand reservation holders. Tesla has made some extraordinary claims for the car, and analysts and investors will be watching the event closely to see if it can live up to them.

    Due to go on sale in mid-2012, the seven passenger Model S is designed to do nothing less than revolutionize the auto industry. Its performance targets are extraordinary: zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, 120 mile-per-hour top speed, and a battery-powered range of 160 miles at minimum for the base model.

    But the performance of the car itself pales in comparison with Tesla's unusual business model. Even though it lacks the engineering resources and volume efficiencies of an established automaker, Tesla (TSLA) intends to sell the car for the same as or less than competing models from larger manufacturers. Prices will start at $57,400 -- about the same as for a similar-sized Audi A6.

    In order to compete at those prices, Tesla will have to stand traditional auto industry economics on its head. Consider:

    • Autos is an industry that values economies of scale and requires the production of hundreds of thousand cars to cover the fixed costs of R&D, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. Yet Tesla has sold fewer than 2,000 cars in its lifetime and plans to build just 20,000 Model S cars annually.

    • Unlike Tesla's first car, the Roadster, which was based on a modified Lotus Elise (and actually assembled in part by Lotus in England), the electric S is all-new from the ground up. Established automakers spend several hundred million dollars engineering similar projects -- General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) is estimated to have spent $1 billion developing the Chevrolet Volt -- but Tesla's resources are far more limited. Big companies save money by sourcing components from outside suppliers through competitive bidding and using them on several different models. Tesla says it plans to make 70% of its own parts in-house.

    • Most automakers avoid building a new model with a new powertrain in a new assembly plant. Doing more than one new job at a time is just too complex and leads to delays and quality issues. Tesla, which has little experience building anything, has taken over an abandoned GM plant in an attempt to do all three at once. It's as if Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) went from making canvas-and-wood biplanes to the 787 Dreamliner in one step.

    Tesla believes it can overcome these shortcomings with innovations like "a holistic approach to vehicle architecture," lessons from the Roadster's "proven, road-tested technology," and "superior electric technology." Yet nothing stays proprietary for very long in a fiercely competitive industry with dozens of manufacturers and thousands of suppliers. Any genuine innovations that Tesla discovers could quickly become common property. Analysts wonder where Tesla's competitive advantage will lie.

    CEO Elon Musk insists that the company will make money in 2013. One big reason, a spokesperson says, is a pair of upscale S models with extra battery capacity priced at $67,000 and $77,000 that will command gross margins of 25%. While he acknowledges the difficulty of "ramping up production by a factor of 30," Musk tells interviewers Tesla will move into the black "soon after Model S starts production."

    The auto industry's harsh economics put Tesla in a bind. In order to boost production volume to reasonable levels in order to lower its overhead, it will have to cut prices. But if it cuts prices, it will shrink its profit margins. Should Tesla decide to raise prices to cover its costs, its volume will drop precipitously.

    These concerns have been brushed aside by bullish securities analysts caught up in the excitement of a battery-powered car that -- if it delivers as promised -- could revolutionize the auto industry. They view Tesla as having the potential to turn the Detroit Three and create the Big Four. Their enthusiasm has been shared by the U.S. Department of Energy, which guaranteed a $465 million loan for Tesla last year and further stoked investments from Daimler and Toyota (TM).

    The numbers remain daunting and Tesla needs to see some black ink soon. It lost $55.7 million in 2009, $154.3 million in 2010, and $108 million for the first six months of 2011. Some on Wall Street see Tesla making an unusually fast turnaround. Most vehicles don't recover their development costs until they are in their third year of production, but their forecasts show the Model S turning profitable within 18 months.

    "The auto industry might change more in the next 10 years than the last 100," wrote veteran analyst Steve Milunovich of Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a report published August 8. "Electric vehicles (EV) represent a new category that Tesla could lead given that new entrants tend to win when disruptive technologies emerge. In our view, CEO Elon Musk may be similar to Steve Jobs in being a technology visionary also able to manage and create shareholder value."

    Perhaps. Or he could turn out to be another Andy Kay, Adam Osborne, or Clive Sinclair -- pioneers in the personal computer industry who were contemporaries of Steve Jobs that fell along the wayside.

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