SolarCity's thrifty message clashes with Tesla's luxury branding

Wed Jun 22, 2016 6:21pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES, June 22 (Reuters) - Elon Musk is betting that luxury electric car buyers and rooftop solar customers are a single market. The marketing messages of Tesla and SolarCity tell a different tale.

Musk said he would be "shocked" if his customers did not all at least have an interest in solar, but he did not know how many Tesla owners also have solar panels. He lobbed a guess that it might be a quarter.

His strategy to join Tesla Motors Inc and home solar leader SolarCity Corp may founder on that guess, as the two companies take different approaches to essentially separate groups of customers.

"SolarCity's value proposition is about saving money. It's not a premium thing like a Tesla is," said Shayle Kann, senior vice president at solar industry research firm GTM Research. "I don't think most solar customers would buy a Tesla yet."

Tesla and SolarCity became leaders in their respective markets with very different sales strategies. Tesla sells luxury cars to the wealthy, and SolarCity offers middle-income homeowners a way to save 15 percent on their energy bills.

The electric vehicle company said its home battery offering is a good sign for solar. Spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn said the company has received interest in its Powerwall batteries from "tens of thousands of customers" since they were introduced last year.

"We see that customers who are interested in driving Tesla vehicles or using Powerwalls are naturally interested in going solar, and vice versa," she said in a statement.

But the overlap is "not a tremendous amount", said Pavel Molchanov, who follows the energy business for Raymond James: "Somebody shopping for a car is not necessarily in the market for a solar system."   Continued...