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Today is an important day for electric carmaker Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA ) , as the company's highly anticipated Model S sedans officially hit the road. The start-up automaker has a lot riding on the Model S deliveries, which began this afternoon from the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. Let's take a look under the hood and see what's at stake for the company and what investors should watch for at Tesla in the quarters to come.
Why the Model S matters
Tesla CEO Elon Musk spent the last three years building up our expectations of the all-electric car's performance capabilities. But can the Model S live up to the hype? Analysts at Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) seem to think so. The investment-banking firm upgraded the stock this week with a $50 price target. That figure offers favorable upside, considering the stock is currently trading around $33 a share.
Though the Roadster was the company's first all-electric sports car, the new seven-passenger S series is the first car Tesla will have designed and manufactured 100% in-house. This is no small feat for a company such as Tesla, which doesn't benefit from the economies of scale afforded to traditional automakers.
According to management, the Model S offers a driving experience unrivaled by not only other electric vehicles but also similarly priced gas-guzzlers. At a base price of $49,900 after federal tax credits, the car isn't cheap. Of course, neither is the performance at zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and with a top speed of 125 mph, you can leave other electric cars in the dust.
For comparison, the 2012 electric Ford (NYSE: F ) Focus only reaches a top speed of 84 mph on a range of as far as 100 miles. Depending on the battery package and pricing you choose, the Model S provides a range of between 160 and 300 miles on a single charge. Not only does Tesla need to deliver on the performance metrics, but the company needs to ramp up production along the way.
Production enters overdrive
The next thing investors need to keep an eye on is whether Tesla can start rolling cars off the assembly line at a faster and more efficient pace. If the company can achieve its goal of 20,000 Model S deliveries by next year, then Musk just may accomplish his grand plan of making increasingly affordable all-electric cars.
Still, that's ambitious considering the company only plans to produce 5,000 versions of the car this year. By boosting production volumes, Tesla could very likely become a mass-market producer of electric cars. Given Musk's track record and the company's ability so far to underpromise and overdeliver, I'm confident that Tesla can meet these expectations.
A more electric world
Assuming the Model S launch is a runaway success and Tesla gets up to speed in terms of its manufacturing process, the auto industry as a whole still faces strong headwinds. With a lack of infrastructure in place, electric vehicles still have miles to go before hitting mainstream acceptance. The shift to EVs and sustainable energy isn't going to happen overnight. However, companies like Tesla are helping us accelerate in that direction.
Other major companies outside of autos are also supporting this shift toward electric-powered transportation. General Electric (NYSE: GE ) is investing upwards of $1 billion for 25,000 gas-free cars with a commitment to make over its fleet by 2015.
I have no doubt Tesla's Model S will be a success, which is why I stand by my CAPScall of outperform on the stock. Bigger picture, I suspect Tesla will help transform the auto industry. Click here find out what other companies are disrupting the manufacturing world in this special free report from The Motley Fool titled "The Future Is Made in America."