Tesla seemed to be made of Teflon in 2020 and 2021, as the company seemed to avert the semiconductor chip shortage with relative ease, while longstanding and prestigious automakers scaled back production due to the lack of supplies. Tesla, a company run like no other, avoided these chip shortages by using its vertical integration and preparation, along with some other strategic moves, to solidify its company’s position as the big winner of the uncertain 2020 and 2021 global automotive market.
After reporting that it had crushed Wall Street consensus expectations regarding Q4 2021 deliveries, Tesla shares skyrocketed over 13% yesterday. The unlikely, small-but-mighty car company now based out of Austin, Texas, after a more than a decade-long relationship with Northern California, which had its ups and downs, averted crisis over the past two years, and continued its streak of manufacturing growth, by keeping itself stocked on the various chips and semiconductors that keep its vehicles moving.
Strategies like delivering some cars with missing parts, like USB ports or Bluetooth chips, or even axing lumbar support in some cars, helped make things easier to build. These strategies, along with various price raises to address higher part costs and expedited shipping measures, helped keep the balance sheet healthy. Customers may have paid more for their cars than they would have in early 2021, but it did not affect sales figures like one might expect. Tesla beat Wall Street estimates by 16% when it released delivery figures for the final quarter of 2021.
Momentum started when Tesla stated in its Q2 2021 Earnings Call that it had developed a series of 19 microcontrollers in-house that would help avoid the chip shortage. “Our team has demonstrated an unparalleled ability to react quickly and mitigate disruptions to manufacturing caused by semiconductor shortages,” the company wrote in its Shareholder Deck for Q2. “Our electrical and firmware engineering teams remain hard at work designing, developing, and validating 19 new variants of controllers in response to ongoing semiconductor shortages.”
This is just one part of Tesla’s vertical integration, which helps the company avoid the massive shipping bottlenecks that kept cars away from customers for the majority of 2021. Other companies were forced to delay production and deliveries; there just were not enough chips to go around. However, Tesla’s key advantage over other OEMs was the fact that many elements of its products are designed in-house, down to the most complex portions of a design. “We’re designing and building so much more of the car than other OEMs, who will largely go to the traditional supply base and like I call it, catalog engineering. So it is not very adventurous,” CEO Elon Musk said during the Q3 2020 Earnings Call.
Reuters spoke to a Tesla insider who is involved in the engineering of the company’s chips, which shed light on how effective the vertical integration advantage is. “We design circuit boards by ourselves, which allow us to modify their design quickly to accommodate alternative chips like powerchips,” the employee told Reuters.
The series of in-house chips, which were easily modified to accommodate other types of chips that Tesla was in need of, was not the only strategy the automaker used to avoid bottlenecks. Tesla also prepared by not halting the number of chips it had ordered from suppliers, a move that other car companies did not replicate. Instead, Tesla never reduced its production forecast because of the pandemic or supply chain shortages, which may have been its most crucial move. “They’ve just been smarter about it than other companies in terms of making sure there’s buffer stock,” a supplier executive for Tesla indicated.