Could Tesla Motors be the world's most important car company?
Morgan Stanley Research analyst Adam Jonas makes that argument in a new report to investors.
"Not even two years after the delivery of the first Model S, Tesla Motors has transformed from fledgling start-up to arguably the most important car company in the world. We are not joking," Jonas wrote. "Tesla is also emerging as an emblematic force in America's effort to foster high tech manufacturing job growth."
Tesla has gone from zero to hero with automotive suppliers, which once shunned the Palo Alto, Calif., car company.
Jonas recently dined with a senior executive at one major supplier and said the dinner talk centered on what Tesla does differently in terms of electrification, connected cars and autonomous vehicles. Now suppliers are considering developing dedicated lines and facilities just for Tesla's business.
Rival automakers derided now-failed start-ups such as Fisker and Coda, but they see Tesla as a true competitor.
General Motors has a "Team Tesla" devoted to the development of long-range electric vehicles like Tesla's Model S sedan, Jonas said.
"A BMW engineer recently explained to us how Tesla's presence has helped reinvigorate the spirit of automobile innovation that was beginning to run stale, further testifying that BMW will be a stronger company longer term because Tesla is around," he said.
Tesla is having a positive effect on the U.S. economy.
Five states are developing incentive packages to land Tesla's proposed giant $5 billion "gigafactory" battery facility, a project that could create 6,000 manufacturing and technical jobs, Jonas said.
A "governor would need a very good reason to say no to a Tesla factory," Jonas said.
Including the battery factory and expanded auto production at its factory in Fremont, Calif., Jonas sees Tesla's U.S. employment rising from about 6,000 workers today to as many as 20,000 within seven years.
That would indirectly support more than an additional 100,000 U.S. jobs.
It's "GDP moving stuff," Jonas said.
This is especially important to California, Tesla's home state. It already has the automaker's headquarters, the auto factory and is in the running for the battery plant, although some think that is a long shot.
Tesla is uniquely America.
Tesla also establishing itself as the "most American made car on the road, pushing 90% U.S. content," according to Jonas. That's more than such American pie vehicles as the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado pickup trucks, he said.
This all means that investors should look at Tesla as more than a traditional auto company. Jonas has a price target of $320 for the automaker's stock. That valuation implies that Tesla will have slightly less than 1% of the global auto market by 2028. It has traded between $225 and $230 for most of the past week.
There are risks.
Tesla is guaranteeing the value of its Model S in a lease-finance transaction. If the price of used Teslas fall short of the company's estimates, it could lose a lot of money.
Tesla remains dependent on key government programs such as environmental credits and federal and state incentives for people who purchase electric cars.
Those could go away. Lawmakers, for example, might decide not to give wealthy consumers as much as $10,000 in federal and state benefits to purchase a car that starts around $71,000 and easily crosses the $100,000 range depending on options and features.
Finally, the potential for Tesla to expand into non-automotive related business such as using its battery technology for energy storage devices exposes the company's operations to untested cost, competitive and regulatory forces, Jonas said.