Tesla Rocks the Nasdaq, But Analysts Skeptical Electric Car Company Can Go The Distance

Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) , the Palo Alto, CA electric car company, wowed the markets today when it went public, raising $229 million in the IPO and trading at $17 apiece, a buck more than the company's estimated upper range of $16 a share. 

Despite the strong start in an otherwise weak IPO market, some analysts are cautious about a company that so far has just one very-expensive $100,000 niche product. As Xconomy reported yesterday, though, Tesla and investors (which include Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Daimler AG,) are billing the company as a technology play -- like an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) or a Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) as opposed to a traditional auto manufacturing company.

However, as much as Tesla would like to connote an image of a sleek, clean, tech company, analysts say there is no escaping the fact that the car company will have to get into the greasy, dirty business of manufacturing cars. And there are more than a few auto companies that have been doing it for a long time.

While optimistic investors believe the Model S, which is expected to be priced at $49,000 when it comes out in 2012, will turn Tesla into a real auto company, the Silicon Valley carmaker will also have real competition from better-tested technology, says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, MI.

"I would say it is a very high risk for an investor," Cole says. "As they move down scale, they run into the products of a lot of folks.

"Also, I'm not sure gas prices are going to be high enough to stimulate interest in pure electric vehicles. The battery technology is not good enough to replace the use of liquid fuels and IC [internal combustion] engines."

In early afternoon trading today on the Nasdaq market, the company was trading at about $18 a share under the ticker symbol TSLA.

So, for today, Tesla has rock-star status on Wall Street, even making some music of its own by ringing in the opening bell outside the Nasdaq building in Times Square. Time will tell, though, if this Tesla will have as much staying power as the '80s hair band of the same name, or, more optimistically, as original namesake Nikola Tesla, the father of commercial electricity.

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Howard Lovy is Xconomy's Detroit correspondent. You can reach him at hlovy@xconomy.com.


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