Is Tesla doomed?

One critic says Tesla is 'showing all the signs of a company in trouble,' and that the situation will only get worse as established automakers start taking electric cars more seriously and introduce luxury models of their own.

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters/File
The radar technology of a Tesla Model S containing Autopilot features is pointed out during a Tesla event in Palo Alto, Calif.

Bob Lutz has never been shy about speaking his mind, and now he has something to say about Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] that's likely to start some heated conversations. Despite the praise its products have received from the media and customers, the former auto industry executive thinks the Silicon Valley automaker is in trouble.

In a Road & Track column bluntly titled Is Tesla Doomed?, Lutz says Tesla is "showing all the signs of a company in trouble." He claims the company is "bleeding cash" and that inventory of electric cars is piling up. Lutz attributes the latter issue to low gas prices and range anxiety. He claims Tesla's situation will only get worse as established automakers start taking electric cars more seriously and introduce luxury models of their own, like the upcoming Audi electric crossover.

Tesla has fought battles in multiple states over its practice of selling cars directly customers, but Lutz seems to think it's all for naught. He said company-owned stores are "money pits" and that Tesla is simply shouldering a financial burden that other automakers pass off to independent franchisees.

He's also skeptical of the new Model X crossover, saying that a "big, expensive vehicle with a compromised structure to accommodate gullwing doors can hardly be a sales knockout." Ouch.

So what would Lutz do if he was in Elon Musk's position? Cut costs and introduce a range-extended model. He said Tesla should give up on having a full line of all-electric cars, and introduce a model with 50 or 60 miles of electric range and a supplemental internal-combustion engine, which he claims could be built cheaply and sold as a higher-volume, entry-level model. He had no comment on the upcoming Model 3, which Tesla says will have 200 miles of range and a base price of $35,000.

Lutz has always been fond of range-extended electrics. He backs Via Motors, which markets converted range-extended full-size trucks based on General Motors models. He was also involved with VL Automotive, which sought to convert Fisker Karma sedans from range-extended electrics to Corvette-powered muscle cars.

Is Lutz correct in his thinking?

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