This market insight discusses that In the race to meet growing demand, and lead the global electric vehicle (EV) market, American EV innovator Tesla has scaled up its vehicle production by more than threefold in just three years.

In the race to meet growing demand and lead the global electric vehicle (EV) market, American EV innovator Tesla has scaled up its vehicle production by more than threefold in just three years. This acceleration in output, coupled with the significant amount of electronics deployed in EVs, has pushed Tesla’s semiconductor spending to new heights.

Tesla’s unique brand strategy and product offerings, design, and manufacturing prowess, combined with its strategic partnership with battery makers, has made the company a dominant force in the EV business, accounting for nearly 60% of all EV sales in the US in 2019. Tesla produced approximately 367,000 EVs last year, more than three times its output in 2017.

With the surge in production, Tesla’s 2019 revenue skyrocketed to $24.6bn from $11.7bn in 2017. The significant amount of fresh revenue became the fuel for driving Tesla’s ambitious expansion plans, including the construction of new manufacturing plants in China and Germany, and the introduction of new EV models and services that Omdia believes will take the company to a new level of renown.

From luxury niche to mass market
In the first few years following its entry into the EV market, Tesla focused on the luxury auto segment by rolling out the Model S and X. Not only were they less expensive than other luxury EVs available then in the market, they also boasted better range. However, the supply of both models was limited.

The scarcity of the Model S and X, coupled with their innovative designs, boosted Tesla’s brand reputation and created a surge in demand for the two vehicles around the world. The EV maker then made a play for the mass market by introducing the affordable Model 3 in 2017, priced at about half that of the Model S and X.

Scaling and globalizing with Gigafactories
To accommodate the scale of its EV and clean energy initiatives, Tesla has set up both in the US and abroad new so-called Gigafactories—massive sites for manufacturing Tesla products.

Gigafactory 1 in Storey County, Nevada, is a lithium-ion battery and EV subassembly facility. Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, produces solar tiles and vehicle chargers. The scale and success of both sites have allowed Tesla not only to reap meaningful profits but also to increase production of the lower-margin but more affordable Model 3 for promoting in the market, in the hope that it would capture a bigger piece of the EV pie.

To insulate itself from the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China but at the same time drive its growth in China’s booming EV market, Tesla established the new Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai. The plant went into operation in the fourth quarter of 2019, and production of the Model 3 at the site is estimated to reach 150,000 units in the first year. With the additional capacity from Giga Shanghai, Tesla will be able to produce 500,000 EVs globally in 2020. The new China facility will allow Tesla to make its EVs available to more Asia Pacific countries while also enabling the company with its solar-plus-storage solutions to pivot into the region’s nascent renewable energy market.

Fast-growing appetite for semiconductors
Tesla’s accelerating vehicle production has driven its semiconductor spending to grow from $88m in 2015 to $714m last year, representing a 4-year CAGR of 69%, Omdia research indicates.

As additional production capacity is expected to materialize in the next couple of years, Tesla’s chip spending is projected to increase 27% to $903m in 2020, and then rise by another 25% in 2021 to ultimately cross the $1bn mark. Of the company’s total chip spending in 2019, 97% went into automotive, with the remaining 3% going into industrial products such as vehicle-charging stations, energy storage, and solar systems.

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Racing into the future
Tesla’s new Model Y sport utility vehicle (SUV), released last year, is expected to overtake the Model 3 by 2023 to become the best-selling EV from the company. Tesla has also earmarked for production in 2021 two new EV models, the Tesla Semi tractor and the Cybertruck pickup, both aimed at the untapped transportation and logistics EV space.

The new vehicle launches join various other energetic initiatives underway at Tesla. Its European manufacturing plant Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg goes online in 2021, and the company continues to expand its other Gigafactory plants.

Given the overwhelming demand for Tesla’s new vehicles and a potential breakthrough in new-battery technology—made more plausible through the company’s 2019 acquisitions of Canadian battery specialist Hibar Systems and US energy storage company Maxwell Technologies from California—prospects for Tesla appear robust. Its continued leadership of the EV market seems assured, and Tesla remains on the cutting edge in sustainable energy generation and storage.

COVID-19 puts brake on growth
In the wake of the pandemic from the coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, Tesla had to shut down its Shanghai plant for about two weeks. The Tesla automotive manufacturing plant in Fremont also remains shut at the time of writing.

With the global economy entering into recession, and with virtually half the world’s population under lockdown, demand in automotive will continue to erode until the virus crisis is resolved. As a result of this disruption, Tesla is likely to lower its output target this year. But because the company is well-positioned for market opportunities to come, a solid rebound for Tesla is expected next year after the world emerges from the pandemic.

At this time of uncertainty, Omdia will continue to monitor the overall situation in semiconductors to provide timely guidance and support. To this end, adjustments to the chip spending forecast will be reflected in the forthcoming H1 2020 edition of the OEM Semiconductor Spend Tracker, based on the latest available information and data that we obtain. 

This Market Insight and the OEM Semiconductor Spend Tracker report are both offered under Omdia’s Components & Devices research pillar. Omdia subscribers also have full access to our Semiconductors research service and its five research categories, namely Memory & Storage, MEMS & Sensors, Semiconductor Components, Semiconductor Manufacturing, and Semiconductor Market.