Stock Wars: Ford Vs. Tesla

Benzinga’s weekly Stock Wars matches up two leaders in a major industry sector with the goal of determining which company is the better investment.

This week, the duel is between two of the most prominent and often controversial companies in the history of the automobile industry: Ford Motor Company F and Tesla Inc. TSLA.

The Case For Ford: The Ford Motor Company was incorporated on June 16, 1903. Its namesake, Henry Ford, had previously started two unsuccessful automobile companies and was initially a vice president in this endeavor — he became president after John S. Gray, the original corporate captain, died of a heart attack in 1906.

As a company president, Ford was credited with many innovations, including the modernization of the assembly line and instituting an eight-hour day/five days per week working schedule for his workforce.

Ford generated criticism for his political actions. He opposed U.S. entry into World War I, partnered with Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany on automobile production in their regimes and financed anti-Semitic publications.

Today, Ford has facilities in 18 countries and a global workforce of more than 186,000 people.

Among its most recent developments, Ford announced a partnership with semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries Inc. GFS that will involve joint research and development to address the need for an increased chips volume to meet the automotive industry’s needs, including semiconductor solutions for ADAS, battery management systems and in-vehicle networking. The companies also plan to explore “expanded semiconductor manufacturing opportunities to support the automotive industry.”

Last week, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the automaker planned to double its electric vehicle production by 2023 to a quantity of 600,000 vehicles a year by the end of 2023, with the goal of becoming the world’s leading EV manufacturer. But also last week, Ford canceled its plans to develop EVs with Rivian Automotive, Inc. RIVN, a company that Ford has backed since 2019.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, the third-quarter data published on Oct. 27, Ford saw revenue of $35.6 billion, down from $37.5 billion one year earlier. The company also recorded $1.83 billion in net income, a drop from $2.38 billion in the previous year. The third-quarter basic earnings per share of 46 cents was a drop from 60 cents year-over-year. Ford’s board of directors voted to reinstate a regular quarterly dividend starting in the fourth quarter.

In the company’s earnings call, Farley looked ahead to 2022 and insisted the company was “excited and energized about the opportunity in front of us and clear that we have so much more work to do to deliver on Ford's potential. The word I would leave you with is focus. The competitive environment has never been more interesting and tough, and we intend to live up to our promise to compete like a challenger, focusing on our top priorities to unlock Ford+ growth with customers at the very center of everything we do.”

Ford opened for Wednesday trading at $20.20, a hair below its 52-week high of $20.79 and far from its 52-week low of $8.43.

Related Link: The complete Stock Wars series

The Case For Tesla: While it impossible not to talk about Tesla without mentioning CEO Elon Musk, the South African-born entrepreneur was actually a latecomer to the company. Tesla was founded in July 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, with Musk coming on board in February 2004 as chairman via a $6.5-million investment. Musk would become CEO in 2008, with Eberhard and Tarpenning being maneuvered out of the corporate leadership.

Under Musk, Tesla established itself as the power player in the EV sector — its Model 3 became the first EV to sell 1 million units globally last June, and last month it achieved a $1-trillion market capitalization, which made Musk the world’s richest man.

Tesla has a workforce of less than 71,000 and 12 manufacturing facilities spread across the U.S., Canada, Germany and China. Three additional facilities, two in the U.S and one in Germany, are slated to open next year.

Tesla has also weathered its share of controversies recently. Reuters reported Tuesday that employees at Tesla's new factory near Berlin have taken the first steps to set up a works council, a move that reportedly irritated Musk, who notoriously threatened to strip his U.S. workers of their stock options if they tried to unionize.

The German IG Metall trade union also reported the Berlin Tesla plant is offering wages that are 20% below the collectively bargained wages offered at other German automakers.

Last week, news percolated of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a woman at the company’s factory in Fremont, California. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sought data from all Tesla vehicles produced since 2014 to related to its Autopilot system, with the company’s self-driving cars having crashed into emergency vehicles at least 11 times.

In its most recent earnings report, the third-quarter data published on Oct. 20, Tesla saw revenues of $13.7 billion, up from $8.7 billion one year earlier. Net income was $1.6 billion for the quarter, up from $331 million in the previous year. The diluted EPS of $1.44 was up year-over-year from 27 cents.

The quarterly report acknowledged the performance could have been better.

“A variety of challenges, including semiconductor shortages, congestion at ports and rolling blackouts, have been impacting our ability to keep factories running at full speed,” the report stated. “We believe our supply chain, engineering and production teams have been dealing with these global challenges with ingenuity, agility and flexibility that is unparalleled in the automotive industry.”

Tesla opened for trading on Wednesday at $1,109.03, closer to its 52-week high of $1,243.49 and far from its 52-week low of $526.20.

The Verdict: More than a few Benzinga readers may consider this statement to be the stock market equivalent of apostasy, but the winner in this Stock Wars duel is easily Ford and not Tesla. There are four key reasons why Ford is the stronger stock.

First, Ford is admittedly late to the EV game, but it has manufacturing resources that Tesla lacks. Farley’s goal of making Ford the world’s biggest EV company is not farfetched based on its global presence. Tesla is late to the European market and might be putting too much hope on gaining a leadership position in China, where U.S. companies are never allowed to be a dominant player in any sector.

Second, Ford has already produced a superior product. Last week, Consumer Reports judged Ford’s five-door electric crossover Mustang Mach-E as being better than Tesla Model 3 sedan and other electric models in its latest annual reliability score. And while both the Mach-E and Tesla vehicles were subject to recalls earlier this year due to problems with their glass roofs, at least the NHTSA is not demanding seven years of data from Ford.

Third, Ford is investing in its future via its aforementioned partnership with GlobalFoundries and with a partnership involving Walmart WMT and Argo AI on “last mile” autonomous-vehicle delivery service. In comparison, Musk seems more interested in picking social media fights with his peers in the corporate world than building relationships to boost the company.

Fourth, Ford learned the hard way what happens when a corporate leader runs his mouth off unchecked. In 1997, 50 years after Henry Ford died, Ford sponsored an advertising-free broadcast on NBC of Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” — and while the company insisted otherwise, it was fairly obvious that Ford was atoning for its founder’s miserable anti-Semitism and the use of slave labor in its German operations before the U.S. entry into World War II.

Mercifully, Musk’s tweets and media antics do not carry the dismal emotional and intellectual shackles of Ford’s actions. Nonetheless, Musk often seems more interested in the sound of his voice, to the point of obscuring his company rather than enhancing it — and his reckless tweets and questionable corporate judgment has already brought federal government actions and lawsuits aimed at him and his company, and it is not impossible to imagine more will follow if he keeps on this route.

Musk’s flippancy might be amusing today, but come back in a few years and it will not be difficult to imagine Ford having the proverbial last laugh at his expense.

Photo: Noya Fields/Flickr Creative Commons

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