Tesla's Competitors: The Other Players in the Electric Vehicle Industry
These three Tesla competitors could provide investors with an alternative to the electric vehicle manufacturer but which stock is a buy?
Jan. 17, 2023

There's no doubt that CEO Elon Musk's eccentric style, as well as never-before-seen products like the Cybertruck, have helped to make Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) the most recognizable electric carmaker in the industry. 

Outside of and within the United States, however, there are many companies that are quietly setting themselves up to compete with, and perhaps even to surpass, the quirky entrepreneur at his own game.

1. Nio

"Tesla" and "China" have been big buzzwords for years, associated as they both are with potentially world-changing innovation and growth. So when a Shanghai-based automotive startup comes along amid whispers of being "China's Tesla", you know it's worth your attention.

Founded back in 2014, NIO (NYSE: NIO) manufactures premium electric vehicles for the international market. While its products have generally been met with critical acclaim, the company has also developed a reputation for being risky and unpredictable. Some commentators fear that its valuation is based on a vague notion of "potential", rather than its current financial performance -- although perhaps a similar charge could be made against Tesla itself.

NIO delivered 122,486 EVs in 2021, up 34% year-over-year. Its rapidly growing delivery numbers and improving financial metrics have provided investors who seek a Tesla alternative a viable option. Whether this growth can be maintained and investor demand remains at these astronomical levels is another question. NIO is definitely a high-risk bet, but the company's commitment to pushing boundaries, combined with its exceptionally low price, makes it simply too hard to write off.

2. Ford Motors 

Traditional auto companies have previously struggled to sell EVs, but now that could all change as Ford (NYSE: F) revs up competition in the busy electric-powered motor space. 

Ford's investment into electrified cars, trucks, and SUVs is certainly paying off. The Detroit-based company's Mustang Mach-E model, which ranked number three in sales among electric sport utility vehicles in the U.S. in 2021, was named "Electric Vehicle of the Year" by Car and Driver magazine.

Ford stated that its F-150 Lightning has generated 200,000 reservations since its unveiling in May 2022 and explained that around three-quarters of these buyers are new to the brand. The company also announced plans to double its production target in order to meet demand.

Ford's EV portfolio also reached new heights in 2022, with sales reaching 61,575 units in the U.S. alone -- up 125% year-over-year. This was spearheaded by the company's Mustang Mach-E, its electric vans, and the highly anticipated F-150 Lightning.

In a survey by Cox Automotive, more people said they would buy an all-electric Ford F-150 over Tesla's Cybertruck because of the former's price, driving performance, design, and size. As one of the longest-running automakers in the world, the company has a distance advantage from decades of experience and it may just have what it takes to give Tesla a run for its money. 

3. Volkswagen

When Elon Musk opened Tesla's European Gigafactory on the outskirts of Berlin, all attention turned to the German auto industry, and its relative failure to produce anything as exciting as its American counterpart.

One of the industry giants that has long been promising to change this is The Volkswagen Group (ETR: VOW3). A decade after Tesla got in on the scene, Volkswagen has quietly been making inroads on the industry through its ID range.

Volkswagen predicts 50% of its U.S. sales by 2030 will be EVs and the firm is spending tens of billions to push this target. It also is aiming to produce 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025, in anticipation of the EU's new emission targets.

One of the world's largest companies, the 82-year-old Volkswagen has survived countless cycles of boom-and-bust -- not to mention dictatorship, war, and the division and reunification of its host country -- making it particularly adept at achieving long-term aims such as this one.

Does Tesla Have a Competitive Advantage?

As all of these competitors begin to pour into the electric vehicle market, we must examine if Tesla has a competitive advantage and whether it can retain its dominance in the industry:

  • First-mover advantage: Tesla has been around the EV industry a lot longer than its competitors. It enjoys brand recognition, word-of-mouth advertising, and a much more expansive charging network thanks to its time in the market.
  • Autonomous Driving: It's estimated that Tesla has amassed roughly 2 billion miles of data through its Autopilot driver-assist feature, each and every inch of which has strengthened its self-driving algorithm through machine learning. The data from which Tesla can avail of is streets ahead of Alphabet's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Waymo and General Motor's Cruise.
  • Battery Power: The main reason why Tesla made up almost 74% of electric vehicles sold in the U.S. for the last three years is simple: its cars go further. Tesla's Model S has a range of up to 412 miles, depending on the specific model. The closest competitor that isn't a premium-priced car is Ford's Mustang Mach-E Extended Range model. After this, it's Tesla's Model 3, followed closely by the Model X. Many people call Tesla a battery company that sells cars, with this type of dominance it's easy to see why.
  • Brand Evangelicals: Slightly less tangible than its other competitive advantages, but no less important, is the almost cult-like following Tesla garners. Fans of the company and the stock truly think Tesla is on the brink of changing the world for the better, and they're putting their money where their mouth is as deliveries and the stock continues to soar.

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