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Tesla’s biggest bear says the company has reached the end of ‘hyper growth’ mode—and it’s beginning a totally different chapter

January 3, 2023, 8:47 PM UTC
Elon Musk attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Anthology of Fashion" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2022 in New York City.
Gordon Johnson is bearish on Elon Musk's Tesla.
Gotham/Getty Images

Gordon Johnson has quite the reputation among Tesla’s loyal following. 

As Tesla’s biggest bear, Johnson has taken abuse for years from bullish analysts and investors for arguing that Elon Musk’s EV giant is overvalued.

The bulls point to booming EV sales and potential growth drivers like self-driving advancements and battery storage technology as evidence that Tesla stock will eventually become the most valuable on Earth. But with shares down over 70% in the past 12 months, some Tesla investors are beginning to heed Johnson’s warnings.

“We’ve been saying this all along, but nobody wanted to listen,” the CEO of GLJ Research told Fortune on Tuesday. “It’s just a car company that can’t sell its capacity.”

Tesla managed to deliver 40% more cars last year than it did in 2021, but the company still missed its vehicle delivery target for the full year 2022. And Johnson believes that Tesla’s latest deliveries miss is just a preview of what’s to come. 

He argues that the company’s lead times, how long it takes customers to get their vehicles, and backlog, the number of orders waiting to be filled, have dropped dramatically in recent weeks, revealing demand weakness.

“Their actual new orders were around 250,000 cars in the fourth quarter. That’s down quarter over quarter and down year over year,” Johnson said. “Yet it’s valued as if it’s hyper growth. That is why the stock is imploding.”

Wedbush’s Dan Ives still believes Tesla stock will rise to $175 per share, or roughly 60% from current levels, on the back of continued sales growth. 

But Johnson argues Musk’s golden child will fall to just $24.33 per share by the end of 2023 as investors recognize that it has built too much capacity. That represents a potential 75%-plus drop from Tuesday’s closing price.

False promises and a rich valuation

Tesla isn’t Elon Musk’s only company, and his other ventures have worried some analysts in recent weeks.  

Musk’s $44 billion Twitter acquisition has been the subject of a heated debate among analysts, with some arguing that the purchase, along with Musk’s sales to fund it, have hurt share prices and Tesla’s brand.

But Johnson said that he believes Tesla’s real issue is a more long-term growth problem that makes its current valuation illogical.

Wall Street is expecting 35% to 40% delivery growth next year, but Johnson argues Tesla won’t come anywhere close to that unless it cuts prices—and the company has already instituted multiple price cuts in the U.S. and China. At the end of December, it went so far as to offer customers a $7,500 discount on two major car models if they bought them before the end of the year. 

“This is a company that’s valued for tremendous growth,” Johnson said. “They’re valued at around two times Toyota. Toyota sells 11 million cars a year; Tesla sells 1.3 million cars a year. So if they’re valued at double Toyota, then they should be growing significantly, right? But they’re not.”

Johnson also argued that promises from bullish analysts and CEO Musk that Tesla will find new opportunities for growth in areas outside EV sales should be met with suspicion. He noted that Musk has made false promises before, including saying Tesla would have one million robo-taxis on the road by 2020 and that the CyberTruck would begin deliveries in 2021.

“Do you see a pattern here?” he said, warning investors not to get sucked into stories and instead focus on real developments.

Finally, Johnson said that, despite Tesla’s 70% plus drop over the past 12 months, short interest in the company—or the amount of investors betting against the stock—is still low, which could create problems as the stock falls.

“Basically, there’s nobody short,” he explained. “And the reason that’s important, is because when stocks start to fall, typically, there’s a lot of short interest. And when those shorts cover that creates a buying cushion that helps stop the fall. There’s no cushion here. That’s a big problem if you’re a long Tesla.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment. The company dissolved its PR department several years ago.

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