Tesla is ahead of automakers in 3 key categories, tech money manager says

Key Points
  • The transportation industry is "going to shift wholesale to electric, and Tesla is ahead of the pack," ARK Invest founder and CEO Catherine Wood says.
  • Tesla is at a cost advantage over traditional automakers because it produces its own lithium-ion cylindrical batteries, she says.
  • Tesla has also collected billions of miles worth of data from its customers, which puts it ahead of the competition on research, she says.
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Tesla won't have a presence at this year's Detroit Auto Show but the electric-car maker is miles ahead of the competition in three key categories, ARK Invest founder and CEO Catherine Wood told CNBC on Monday.

Traditional automakers have been making sizable investments into electrifying their vehicles, but Tesla is leading the industry in battery technology, artificial intelligence and data collection, she argued.

"We believe that [the] transportation industry is going to shift wholesale to electric, and Tesla is ahead of the pack," Wood said on "Fast Money."

It will be hard for other producers to catch up, because it is in Tesla's "DNA," she added.

Wood, whose tech-heavy fund finished 2018 in the green and is continuing the upward trend thus far in 2019, thinks Tesla is at a cost advantage because it produces its own batteries for the Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles. Other car companies need to vertically integrate, she said.

An employee cleans a Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle on display at the company's showroom in Newport Beach, California, U.S., on Friday, July 6, 2018.Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Also, the type of battery that Tesla uses gives it an additional edge over other carmakers. Tesla's vehicles operate with a lithium-ion cylindrical battery like those used in consumer electronics instead of the lithium-ion pouch batteries.

"So Tesla is riding down the consumer electronics cost curve, which is much, much lower than that lithium ion pouch," Wood said.

"They've done an amazing thing from an engineering point of view no one else thought was possible. That puts them way ahead of the game," she said.

Wood said she expects other car manufacturers will turn to Nvidia for brain power but criticized the chipmaker's "design cadence."

"Everybody else will use Nvidia, but their design cadence is more like 3-5 years," she said. "Tesla's is every year to two years, so completely different dynamic."

Tesla, Wood said, has also collected billions of miles of data from its own customers and continues to gather more than a billion miles each quarter. Google parent Alphabet's Waymo comes in second, with about 200 million miles worth of data, she added.

"That's what powers an autonomous vehicle, and that's where we're going," Wood said.