Why Long-Term Investors Should Eye TSLA's Robotaxi Potential

Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) is set to release its second-quarter delivery update in early July, which is expected to show a decline for the second straight quarter. Analysts have adjusted their estimates for TSLA deliveries downward due to concerns over consumer demand and intense competition in China. In January, the company cautioned that delivery growth in 2024 would be “notably lower” as the impact of months-long price cuts diminishes.

According to an average estimate derived from forecasts by 12 analysts polled by LSEG, the EV maker is expected to deliver 438,019 vehicles for the April-June period. Seven of these analysts have slashed their expectations in the past three months.

Further, Barclays analyst Dan Levy revised his deliveries forecast to 415,000 vehicles, marking an 11% year-over-year drop. He stated that “a soft delivery result could turn attention back to the currently challenging fundamental environment for Tesla.” Meanwhile, RBC Capital Markets and UBS have set their delivery estimates at 410,000 and 420,000 vehicles, respectively.

For comparison, Tesla delivered 386,810 vehicles in the first quarter of 2024 and 466,140 vehicles in the second quarter of 2023, with its highest deliveries tally in the fourth quarter of the previous year at 484,507 units.

Despite the anticipated dip in quarterly deliveries, many analysts suggest that investor focus is shifting from quarterly deliveries to TSLA’s long-term projects, particularly the highly anticipated Robotaxi event scheduled later this summer.

High-Profile Robotaxi Event

CEO Elon Musk officially announced on X that the company will unveil its long-promised Robotaxi on August 8, 2024. The upcoming autonomous vehicle will be built on Tesla’s next-generation vehicle platform. Musk has long hinted at the possibility of a Tesla Robotaxi, even showcasing a fully covered vehicle during a 2023 event unveiling the company's third Master Plan.

Musk previously stated that Tesla will eventually produce a car without human control. He further mentioned that Tesla vehicles equipped with Full Self-Driving Capability will, through software updates, continuously improve their driving skills. He also emphasized that Tesla owners could generate income from their autonomous cars by sending them to pick up and drop off passengers.

That would be a part of the “Tesla Network,” as described in Musk’s Master Plan Part Deux. “You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app," he added, “and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost.”

Several years later, Musk’s vision expanded even further. In 2019, he declared, "By the middle of next year, we'll have over a million Tesla cars on the road with Full Self-Driving hardware." He also claimed that Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature would be so dependable that drivers could “go to sleep.” However, it should be noted that Teslas equipped with FSD software are not fully autonomous, and drivers should not sleep while using them.

While Musk’s promises may not always align perfectly with reality, the success of Autopilot and FSD proves that he remains at the forefront of a societal shift from human-powered vehicles to those piloted by AI.

TSLA’s stock has witnessed a continuous downturn, with a decline of nearly 15% year-to-date and more than 25% over the past year. However, the stock has surged around 16% over the past month as investors increasingly focus on the upcoming Robotaxi event.

While delivery data is crucial for an EV company, investors are looking beyond that. Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, noted, “Compared to Q124 when investor attention was intensely focused on near-term delivery estimates being too high, we see a growing number of investors shifting their outlook to the Robotaxi event on August 8 and the opportunity related to FSD.”

Ben Kallo anticipates that investor attention will remain toward the long term until the Robotaxi launch, which could include details on low-cost, next-gen vehicles. Meanwhile, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives doesn’t anticipate significant fireworks for the June quarter but believes the 8/8 Robotaxi debut will be a substantial catalyst for TSLA.

UBS, however, is more skeptical about the Robotaxi event being an immediate catalyst for TSLA’s stock price. Nonetheless, the firm acknowledges that the EV maker has made significant technical progress in its Robotaxi and Optimus plans. And it is more likely than most companies to capitalize on AI in the physical world, with long-term benefits for its financial model.

Potential Risks and Challenges

While the upcoming Robotaxi event holds promise, it also has inherent risks and challenges. Autonomous driving technology faces stringent regulatory scrutiny. Tesla must navigate complex legal landscapes to deploy its Robotaxi fleet, which could delay implementation and affect timelines.

TSLA must continue to invest heavily in research and development (R&D) to ensure the reliability and safety of its autonomous vehicles. Critics argue that Musk exaggerates the capabilities of the technology, often with fatal consequences. There have been hundreds of crashes involving Tesla vehicles using FSD and Autopilot, resulting in dozens of deaths. The EV giant currently faces several wrongful death lawsuits.

While the Robotaxi initiative has long-term potential, it requires substantial upfront investment. The financial burden of developing and deploying autonomous vehicles could impact Tesla’s short-term profitability.

Bottom Line

TSLA is scheduled to release its second-quarter deliveries report this week, with analysts expecting to show a decline for the second consecutive quarter amid weak demand due to a lack of affordable new models and stiff competition in China. The deliveries report will be released just a few weeks before the company’s second-quarter earnings release.

Street expects Tesla’s revenue for the second quarter (ended June 2024) to decrease 4.2% year-over-year to $23.88 billion. The consensus EPS estimate of $0.58 for the same period indicates a decline of 35.9% year-over-year.

Despite the expected drop in deliveries and weak quarterly earnings, several market experts suggest that investor focus is shifting to Tesla’s long-term projects, particularly the high-profile Robotaxi event set for August this year. As the EV maker navigates the challenges and opportunities ahead, the Robotaxi initiative is a pivotal development that could redefine its future trajectory.

While short-term concerns persist, including weak consumer demand, regulatory hurdles, and ongoing legal challenges, long-term investors increasingly focus on Tesla’s ambitious autonomous driving vision. The event is poised to showcase the company’s technological advancements and could serve as a catalyst for renewed investor confidence.