Morgan Stanley: Tesla’s autonomous ride-sharing network is worth one-tenth of Waymo

Morgan Stanley has valued Tesla’s autonomous vehicle ride-sharing business, which does not yet exist, at $17.7 billion, about one-tenth of Waymo’s value, yet still above GM Cruise, the investment firm said in a research note published Tuesday.

The $17.7 billion valuation, or about $95 per Tesla share, is notably lower than the $244 a share that Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said the service was worth in 2015. (Keep in mind this valuation is just for Tesla’s autonomous vehicle ride-sharing network, not the entire company.) Morgan Stanley’s current price target for Tesla is $291 a share.

Placing a value on a business that doesn’t exist may seem, well, premature. But in Morgan Stanley’s view, it reflects Tesla’s stagnation in this area as much as the progress made by other autonomous vehicle technology companies such as Cruise and Waymo. Jonas noted that Tesla has shared “extremely few details about how shared autonomy can be positioned as a separate business model,” while Cruise and Waymo have become “increasingly conspicuous with their efforts to grow the business with specific targets for commercialization and deployment.”

Tesla’s higher cost of capital compared to Waymo and potentially less room for adjacent revenue monetization were also cited as reasons for the lower valuation.

“In our opinion, Tesla may one day need to make a strategic decision over whether to pursue a shared autonomy strategy on “go-it-alone” basis or whether to find ways to “attach” their vehicle data and fleet management ecosystem to one or more external platforms that maybe in a far better position to pursue data monetization, improved customer engagement/experience and lower cost to the consumer,” Jonas wrote in the research note.

Three years ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk floated an idea for a network of autonomous vehicles that Tesla owners could put to use on a ride-sharing service to earn a bit of extra money. Few details about this Tesla Network have emerged since then.

The most recent smidge of information came from Musk during the company’s first-quarter earnings call in May when he said that from a “technical standpoint” Tesla vehicles would be capable of full autonomy by the end of this year. He also noted that regulatory approval made it difficult to predict timing of an actual launch.

In the meantime, companies like Waymo and GM’s Cruise have ramped up their deployment plans for autonomous vehicle ride-hailing services.

Morgan Stanley does predict that Tesla will take the lead, at least initially. Jonas predicts that Tesla’s autonomous vehicle ride-sharing network will have more vehicles, more miles traveled and greater revenue than Waymo by 2030.

However, the Waymo figures continue to ramp up very significantly through 2040, reaching $724 billion of revenue and $92 billion of operating profit by 2040, Jonas wrote.

“In short, we assume Tesla gets off to a faster start than Waymo in terms of shared miles accumulation, but that Waymo catches up and surpasses Tesla just a few years later and with likely a more sustainable and protected business model,” Jonas wrote.

The forecast places Waymo at the top with a $175 valuation, Tesla at $17.7 billion, and Cruise trailing with a $11.5 billion valuation.

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