C.S. Lewis called it the numinous. Ancient Dionysian cultists called it ekstasis. The Buddha called it nirvana. Today, the timeless experience of leaving one's mortal flesh to feel some trace of the infinite, however fleeting, has found another name: Tesla.
AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson took aim at Tesla on Tuesday, saying the company's market cap surpassing that of General Motors' is "inexplicable."
Jackson seems to be on the path to some form of epiphany here, but he stumbles when he starts splitting hairs about profitability and other trivialities. Compare his spiritual journey to that of Piper Jaffray, whose Tesla note this week turned some heads.
Tesla’s products have a captivating impact on consumers and shareholders alike; this advantage will be difficult to replicate.In the minds of its customers, employees, and shareholders, Tesla isn’t just another company. More so than any stock we’ve covered, Tesla engenders optimism, freedom, defiance, and a host of other emotions that, in our view, other companies cannot replicate. [...]
We sympathize with bears – but their (arguably rational) arguments probably won’t matter. In many ways, TSLA seems to play by its own rules. The company burns through cash at a rate that better-established companies would likely be crucified for – especially considering TSLA’s rickety balance sheet and penchant for raising equity. Tesla’s production timelines are unreasonably fast, at least based on “expert” opinions in the automotive industry, and the company spurns various industry norms. For instance Tesla has avoided LiDAR in its self-driving systems (which some claim is dangerous), while pursuing a direct sales model that dealerships fiercely oppose. Yet, because of its superior products, loyal shareholders, and inspiring mission, TSLA remains unscathed.
The key word there is “inspiring” (etymology: the intercession of the divine, the literal breath of God). To really understand the cult of Tesla, one must abandon earthly measures like enterprise value and EBITDA and instead put one's mind on autopilot and repeat mantra-like the proclamations of Elon Musk. Become the car that drives itself. Grapple with the singularity. Dream the dream. As Musk has said: “Your faith will be rewarded.”
As with any transcendent experience, however, the whole Tesla thing can appear to the uninitiated like a bit of a scam:
The head of the nation's largest auto retailer even joked that Tesla was "either one of the great Ponzi schemes of all time or it's gonna work out." [...]
"What would impress me about Tesla?" Jackson said, speaking at the NADA/J.D. Power Automotive Forum ahead of the New York Auto Show. "Selling vehicles at a profit would be very impressive. Giving away vehicles at below what it costs you to make them is not very exciting."
These arguments might move a confirmed skeptic, but not a true disciple. Contra St. Thomas Aquinas, it's not possible to prove the truth of Tesla's gospel with reason alone. Instead, it requires a Kantian act of faith, a leap beyond what we mere humans can grasp with our crude senses, an exercise of the heart and not the mind. It also requires about $309 a share.