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Why Morgan Stanley Is So Bullish on Tesla and the Model 3

Tesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving TechnologyTesla Motors Inc. Tests Self-Driving Technology
An employee drives a Tesla Model S electric automobile equipped with Autopilot.Jasper Juinen—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 vehicle will be equipped with hardware and software that could make it 10 times safer than the average car on the road, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas suggests in a research note released Thursday.

Such an extreme jump in safety could do more than just drive sales of the Model 3; Jonas suggests it that if Tesla can demonstrate this level of safety—which would mean a Model 3 is 90% less likely to be the cause of a fatal accident—it could lead to the obsolescence of used cars and even change how the auto insurance industry.

Jonas has the equivalent of a “buy” rating on Tesla stock with a $305 price target. Shares of Tesla (TSLA) traded Thursday afternoon at $255.47.

From Jonas:

We think the Model 3 will feature hardware and software that provide a level of active safety that could significantly lead all other cars on sale today and could, if the company achieves its goal, be an order of magnitude (i.e. 10x) safer than the average car on the road. According to nearly every OEM we talk to, safety is the number 1 determinant of car purchases. Look for safety to be the “ah-hah!” moment for this car due to launch this year.

Jonas is basing his argument on the potential of Tesla’s Autopilot software—and the accompanying hardware suite of sensors, cameras, and radar. Autopilot, which was introduced in 2015, is a semi-autonomous driving feature that company the continues to improve via over-the-air software updates.

Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that all new vehicles, including the Model 3 would be equipped with a more robust suite radar and cameras—called Hardware 2—that will push the automated driving feature to new levels of capability and eventually drive autonomously without human intervention.

Customers are able to order enhanced Autopilot or an even more robust “full self-driving capability” feature when the buy a new car. Vehicles with this ability have eight cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radar, and a supercomputer capable of processing data 40 times faster than previously.

The software, or the brains, is continually validated and improvements are rolled out incrementally via updates to the system. The proper regulatory approvals will also need to be sorted out, so it’s unclear when customers will be able to experience fully autonomous driving.

Jonas contends that Tesla wouldn’t go to the trouble of adding high-end items like a liquid-cooled supercomputer in every car to make it just twice as safe as other cars.

He refers to a tweet by Musk on January 19 that says the company’s target is a 90% reduction with Tesla autopilot hardware version 2 as the software matures.

There’s already some evidence that Autopilot has influenced at least one insurance provider.

The results of six-month federal investigation into a fatal accident involving a Tesla prompted Root, an Ohio-based car insurance startup to offer a discount to drivers who use the automaker’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system. The program was borne out of an investigation by U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which found that Tesla vehicles’ crash rate dropped by almost 40% after Autosteer—one component of the Autopilot system—became available.

On a separate note, Jonas expects the Model Y, a small sport-utility vehicle that has been discussed, to likely be Tesla’s highest selling model.

“We believe the small SUV segment will eventually be the largest segment in the world across all OEMs,” jonas wrote. “We also expect Model Y to be at the center of an on-demand ride sharing service (“Tesla Mobility”) due to its larger passenger compartment, luggage space, and modular seat configuration.”