Regardless of how TSLA stock is performing at any given time, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk remains a highly controversial figure.
Musk has turned heads by acquiring Twitter, a move experts predicted would compromise Tesla. He has also been in the hot seat for his social media presence and his backing of speculative cryptocurrencies. Although Musk has since named a new Twitter CEO to turn his attention back to Tesla… and SpaceX… and Neuralink… his being in charge isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the company.
When it comes to a leader like Musk, who has a mixed track record, it can be difficult to measure his aptitude. On one hand, TSLA stock has doubled in 2023 despite the company’s disappointing Q3 earnings and delivery statistics. On the other, since Musk acquired X (formerly Twitter), the platform has been slowly failing as both users and advertisers abandon it.
There’s no denying that Tesla’s CEO has helped the company grow to impressive heights. But Musk isn’t the same leader he used to be. Over a decade ago, he rose to prominence as a visionary CEO who brought EVs to the mainstream, changing the face of the automotive industry. But in recent years, his political comments have polarized Tesla fans, as has his acquisition of X. Love him or hate him, Musk is no longer solely focused on building and selling electric vehicles.
Additionally, Musk’s track record of keeping promises when it comes to Tesla isn’t exactly pristine, which also calls his leadership abilities into question.
He’s promised to deliver self-driving cars every year since 2020 and still hasn’t produced fully autonomous vehicles or robo-taxis. Musk initially claimed Tesla would begin work on the Tesla semi truck in 2019, but it did not happen until 2022 and volume production isn’t expected to start until 2024. On top of all that, he’s pushed back release of the Tesla Cybertruck multiple times. While the vehicle’s launch finally seems near, early impressions have not been positive.
Now the chickens may be coming home to roost. Experts told InvestorPlace that, despite his historical success, Elon Musk’s time at Tesla is running out.
“Musk’s leadership style and approach have sometimes made investors uneasy,” Bay Street Capital founder William Huston told InvestorPlace. Huston highlights that Musk has allegedly identified potential candidates to succeed him at Tesla, a measure which could have been spurred by the company’s board of directors wanting to lay out a contingency if its problems under Musk persist.
The Case Against Musk
Robert R. Johnson, a professor of finance at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business, is skeptical of Tesla’s growth prospects under Musk. Unimpressed by the company’s high valuations, with shares currently trading for 70 times trailing earnings, Johnson believes any investment in TSLA stock at its current levels is highly speculative. “The company’s fundamentals simply don’t justify the atmospheric valuation of the stock,” he told InvestorPlace.
Johnson also takes issue with Tesla’s management. He sees the company “sucking the air out of the automotive industry” and considers both Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM) better investments, highlighting their superior corporate governance and management teams. In his words:
“Tesla seems best suited for risk taking investors who buy into the narrative that Elon Musk is much smarter than all of the other automobile executives and that Tesla will capture a huge share of the electric vehicle market in the long term. These investors also must believe that Musk’s attention won’t be diverted to Twitter or any of his other business ventures. That, in my opinion, is wishful thinking.”
More Potential Problems
Another expert who does not buy into that so-called wishful thinking is Snow Bull Capital CEO Taylor Ogan, who has long doubted Elon Musk. For instance, Ogan takes fault with Tesla, via Musk, hyping its robo-taxi initiative. For instance, in April 2019 at Tesla Autonomy Day, Musk promised investors and fans that Tesla would have “millions” of robo-taxis on the road by 2020. Concept designs for the robo-taxi just emerged in 2023, years delayed.
In the past, Ogan has also criticized Musk’s refusal to embrace lidar technology as a means of ushering in autonomous driving.
Now, Ogan warns that Musk is losing his influence as other automakers bring compelling EVs to market.
“Imagine a dairy farmer who had a near-monopoly on selling milk started telling customers his cows produce milk that makes anyone who drinks it live forever. After a few years, the valuation of his dairy farm goes up 12-fold, due to him being one of the few dairy farmers, people buying his milk because they think it will make them live forever, and enough investors believing it too. Once enough shareholders and customers start to realize his cows’ milk does not magically grant immortality, they will either seek to replace the dairy farmer, or keep the dairy farmer in charge but address that the immortality thing was a hoax and hope he doesn’t get in trouble.”
The electric vehicle market is becoming increasingly crowded, as other automakers, including Ford and GM, work to produce better, more affordable cars. But it may be even more important that other companies have doubled down on autonomous driving technology. Musk’s refusal to compromise on lidar could lead to Tesla losing one of the most important battles for EV makers.
While Tesla falls behind in the driverless race, the combination of increasing competition and slumping demand for luxury EVs threatens to compromise its growth even more. Musk’s strategies haven’t spurred demand or demonstrated significant self-driving car progress. If TSLA stock stalls out in 2024, it could be the final straw for Tesla’s board, forcing them to replace the eccentric CEO.
If investors want TSLA stock to remain in a winning spot, Elon Musk must go.
On the date of publication, Samuel O’Brient did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.