Fans and shareholders of Tesla are making stronger and louder arguments about the future of their favorite company. In them, they draw analogies to one of the most successful brands and businesses in the history of capitalism. They suggest that automaking may go the way of handset manufacturing and that – for Tesla TSLA, +3.43%
– there is a strong resemblance to the Apple AAPL, -1.82%
vs. Nokia/Blackberry/Ericsson/Motorola dynamic.
For those that don’t know, in the early 2000s it was unimaginable that these legacy mobile phone manufacturers could disappear. In 2006, Research in Motion (RIM), the company making BlackBerrys, lost a patent suit against NTP and a U.S. District Court judge slapped an injunction on sales. The Defense Department stepped in, claiming that a Blackberry injunction was a threat to national security. Meanwhile, industry leader Nokia held a 40% market share and by the end of 2007 sported a $230 billion market cap.
But something else happened in 2007.
Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.
And that changed the game for Nokia, Blackberry and the entire industry, forever.
Coincidentally, Jobs introduced that iPhone seven months after Tesla introduced the Roadster at the San Francisco International Auto Show. Fast forward to 2021, and the bulls are suggesting that Apple’s overwhelming success in handset manufacturing can be mirrored in automobile manufacturing by Elon Musk’s Tesla.
For this to happen, let’s first assume that within 15 years buyers will demand a broadly similar “form factor” for any vehicle. Today, there are 250 brands of cars sold to fit all appetites and budgets, and perhaps over 1,000 trims. Meanwhile, thanks to the iPhone, handset hardware has gone from a myriad of styles, sizes and forms to basically one.
Similarly, let’s imagine that the production and value of automobiles and light trucks will become less about the style or performance that is demanded and instead mostly about the software inside the vehicle.
Finally (and this is a huge debate, but) let’s presuppose that Tesla will have better software – most importantly better autonomous driving capability – than any other vendor or manufacturer, whether in Silicon Valley, Detroit, Wolfsburg or elsewhere.
In other words, let’s assume that Tesla is going to become the Apple of automakers.
To do this, we need to ignore that Apple is not just a handset manufacturer. In the first three quarters this year, it reported over $150 billion of iPhone sales, which represented 55% of total sales. It also reported sales from the “Services” segment, which included sales from advertising, digital content, AppleCare and other lines. If we assume all that revenue was driven by the iPhone (even though not all was), then we get the iPhone representing about 65%-70% of Apple’s sales.
This implies Apple has a substantial business (about $110 billion this year) selling Macs, iPads, wearables and accessories too. So in our “Tesla is Apple” analogy, we need to assume that Tesla will make similar extensions into new products.
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