Tesla’s stock-market value has surpassed Ford’s by about $3 billion, even though it delivered fewer than 80,000 vehicles globally last year, leaving analysts to wonder if Elon Musk’s first mass-market electric car can push his upstart company beyond the luxury market.
Tesla’s market value zoomed past Ford Motor on Monday as investors bet Elon Musk can deliver on ambitious growth targets pegged to the mass-market Model 3 that will roll out later this year.
The electric-car maker’s stock climbed 7.3 percent a day after beating analysts’ estimates by reporting shipments of 25,000 cars and SUVs in the first quarter. Its market value is now at about $48.6 billion, $3 billion more than Ford, whose stock sank 1.7 percent Monday after it reported a 7.5 percent decline in March vehicle sales.
Tesla has supplanted Ford even though it delivered fewer than 80,000 vehicles globally last year, compared with 6.7 million from Ford, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, behind General Motors.
“I don’t know if people want electric cars, but people want Tesla,” Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said by phone. “I’m not an Elon Musk worshipper, but people that would normally buy a Porsche are buying Teslas right now.”
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Ford, which reported net income over the last five years totaling $26 billion, towers over Tesla on most metrics. Tesla lost $2.3 billion during the same five-year span. Revenue was $151.8 billion last year for Ford, compared with Tesla’s $7 billion.
“It’s mind-boggling that a company that has the global breadth and depth that Ford has is suddenly valued at less than or equal to Tesla,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst at researcher AutoPacific. “It does not compute.”
Tesla sold 40,697 vehicles in the U.S. last year, according to figures of researcher IHS Markit. Ford delivers that many F-series trucks about every three weeks.
Investors are looking far ahead to the Model 3, a sedan that will retail for about $35,000. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer, has predicted that with Model 3 in the lineup, the company’s annual production could soar to 500,000 by 2018.
“Tesla is valued like a company that has millions in unit sales, which it doesn’t. It took Ford 100 years to get to that point,” said Bloomberg Intelligence auto analyst Kevin Tynan. “Is there ever a future where Tesla sells 6 million units globally? Is there a future where Tesla earns money like Ford does?”
But Tesla has long been valued like a technology stock, in part because of what Baird analyst Kallo called Musk’s “star power.”
Also the CEO of rocket manufacturer SpaceX, which has grand plans to colonize Mars, Musk has demonstrated his pull on Wall Street. He’s raised about $8 billion from equity and debt offerings since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Kallo is convinced Tesla has the ability to achieve its ambitious goals.
“They’re a better car manufacturer, they attract better talent and they have more things going on beyond their four walls than we know about,” he said. “Worn-out industries where people don’t make money is the opportunity for companies like Tesla.”
As Tesla tries to crack the mass market with its Model 3, the company will start to look more like a conventional carmaker and will have a tougher time justifying its value, said Maryann Keller, an auto-industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut.
As sales grow and Musk pushes beyond luxury buyers, he’ll have to add factories, retailers and staff to service cars. Plus, Keller said, there hasn’t been much demand so far for mass-market electric cars.
“This is still the auto industry,” she said. “It’s highly competitive, and he will have to add plants and people just like GM and Ford do. There will be a day of reckoning at some point.”
Dozens of other companies around the world have battery-powered cars on the market, and more are in development.
Investors “act as if Tesla has some sort of patented product that cannot be replicated,” said AutoPacific’s Dave Sullivan.
“By the end of this decade, there’s going to be some significant choice for consumers looking for an electric vehicle,” he said.