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Longtime Tesla bull hits panic button on robo-taxis vs. Model 2

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives ramped up his warnings on a Tesla robo-taxi—if CEO Elon Musk makes it a priority and relegates a lower-priced electric vehicle to the back seat.

The longtime Tesla bull told CNBC on Friday that such a move would be a gamble that could define the future of the electric vehicle maker for the next several years.

A mass-market, sub-$30,000 EV, which Wall Street has dubbed the Model 2, could make up 50%-60% of Tesla’s incremental growth in the next two to three years, while a fully autonomous robo-taxi may not be ready for another five to six years, Ives said.

“We’ve been through a lot of white-knuckle moments for Musk and Tesla,” he added. “This is up there.”

Ives, who has often come up with various metaphors and analogies for his hot takes on Tesla, warned what was once a Cinderella story could turn into a “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

While he is bullish over the long term on robo-taxis and autonomous driving, that shouldn’t come at the expense of a Model 2.

“If that happened, it would be a disaster of epic proportions,” Ives said.

He predicted Tesla will face a moment of truth on Tuesday, when quarterly earnings come out and Musk gets on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

If loyal Tesla bulls don’t like what they hear on the call, they could bail, as sidelining a Model 2 would blow a huge hole in growth for the next few years, he said. Ives compared it to Apple CEO Tim Cook dropping a similar bombshell during its earnings call on May 2.

“This would be like Cook on May 2 coming out and being like, ‘OK, iPhone 15—now look, we’re not going to have anything until iPhone 21. But trust us. Thanks for being on the conference call,’” Ives quipped.

To be sure, he said he remains bullish on Tesla over the long term but said he also needs to hear Musk’s growth strategy in China, which represents 60%-70% of the company’s growth but where cutthroat EV competition has set up a “Game of Thrones” situation.

Musk’s credibility on the line as well, because the last few earnings calls were “train wreck horror shows,” Ives added.

The stakes are high for Tesla after reporting quarterly delivery numbers that were 13% below Wall Street’s consensus estimates earlier this month. Meanwhile, Tesla stock is down 41% year to date.

In a research note last week, Ives said Musk and company are going through a “Category 5 demand storm” in the EV market.  He said Tesla is stuck between “two waves of growth”—the first led by spiking high-end EV sales, and a second, which should come from mass-market EVs and robo-taxis. But despite this narrative, “patience is starting to wear very thin among investors.”

That comes after Reuters reported earlier this month that Tesla had abandoned plans to build the Model 2. Musk responded in a tweet, saying simply that “Reuters is lying (again),” without clarifying.

Amid the recent demand concerns, Musk also announced on April 5 that Tesla will unveil its robo-taxi at the end of the summer. 

Meanwhile, Tesla cut prices on its EV in the U.S. late Friday, bringing some models to the lowest levels ever. That comes after Musk announced 10% layoffs last week and recalled almost 3,900 Cybertruck pickups to fix or replace accelerator pedals that can cause unintentional acceleration. 

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