Bernstein analyst finds Tesla Model 3’s fit and finish ‘relatively poor’ after test drive

Key Points
  • Bernstein reiterates its market perform rating on Tesla shares, warning investors the company will have difficulty with its Model 3 profit margins.
  • An inspection of the Model 3 "revealed widespread shortcomings in fit and finish," the firm's analyst writes.
Elon Musk makes Donald Trump look like an angel: Tesla bear
Elon Musk makes Donald Trump look like an angel: Tesla bear

A real-life Model 3 demonstration did not alter one Wall Street analyst's skeptical view of Tesla.

"We had the opportunity to see and test drive the Model 3 at Tesla's showroom in Red Hook Brooklyn, NY … Fit and finish on the two demo cars we saw – perhaps not surprisingly – was relatively poor," Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi wrote in a note to clients Friday.

"While we doubt that it would impact (or even be noticed by) most prospective buyers, we do worry that poor overall initial quality could undermine Tesla's brand and potentially overwhelm its service network."

Sacconaghi reiterated his market perform rating and $265 price target on Tesla shares, representing 12.5 percent downside to Thursday's close.

Elon Musk makes Donald Trump look like an angel: Tesla bear
Elon Musk makes Donald Trump look like an angel: Tesla bear

The analyst found a misalignment in the Model 3's glass roof, body panel gaps, rubber trim issues around windows and misaligned seams in the interior ceiling of the car, according to his note.

"Our inspection revealed widespread shortcomings in fit and finish ... Tesla representatives acknowledged some of the fit issues, but stated that they believed that Model 3 was much further ahead than where Model X and S had been at this point in production," he wrote.

"We do find the statements credible, we can't help noting that Tesla likely chose to share with us its highest quality/best assembled units, so issues on other cars may be even more pronounced."

Sacconaghi also believes the Model 3 may hurt the company's Model S sales. He noted how the long-range version of the Model 3 is $30,000 cheaper than the Model S with roughly 20 percent better range.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the delivery of the first Tesla Model 3 vehicles in Fremont, US, 28 July 2017.
Andrej Sokolow | picture-alliance/dpa | AP

"We believe cannibalization of Model S with Model 3 is a material risk," he wrote. "Falling S volumes could trigger weaker company gross profits, lower overhead absorption, and higher cash burns, potentially incrementally pressuring Tesla's precarious cash situation."

Tesla shares are up 41.8 percent year to date through Thursday versus the S&P 500's 15.5 percent return. However, the stock is down more than 20 percent since mid-September on growing concerns over Model 3 production shortfalls and cash burn rates.

The analyst said his experience inspecting and driving the Model 3 did not change his view that the company "will struggle" to generate 25 percent gross profit margins on the car.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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