In the past week, Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has passed both Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) to become the most valuable automaker in the United States. That’s quite a feat for a company that sold fewer than 100,000 vehicles last year, compared with multimillion unit sales at Ford and GM.
At a market cap of around $50 billion, Tesla is within easy reach of BMW, which has a market cap of around $54 billion, and the electric carmaker could take a run at Volkswagen’s second-place ranking on the global market cap chart. Volkswagen’s market cap was about $71 billion Tuesday morning.
It’s not exactly a gimme. VW posted revenues of around $230 billion in 2016 and profits of around $16 billion. In 2016, Tesla’s sales totaled $7 billion and the company posted a net loss of about $670 million.
But Tesla’s valuation is in the eye of the beholder, not in the numbers on the page. The company probably will sell around 100,000 vehicles this year and has targeted sales of 500,000 units by 2020.
That is an ambitious goal and much depends on the company’s Model 3, due to launch this fall but with only modest sales until next year. Tesla took preorders totaling more than 400,000 (each with a refundable $1,000 deposit) for the Model 3. When’s the last time you heard that a major automaker was going to take preorders on a new car? (Right, Ford took preorders on its new Mustang a couple of years ago when it sold the car into Europe for the first time ever. But that’s an exception that proves the rule.)
VW, of course, has its own challenges. The company’s diesel emissions scandal absolutely hammered the brand, dropping it out of the top 100 global brand rankings and costing the company billions in fines and repair costs. The company remains Europe’s top seller, with sales up 4.7% year over year through the first three months of the year to 530,089 units. Even the acquisition of GM’s Opel Group by PSA Group will only improve PSA’s current position as the second-best selling carmaker in Europe.
For all its flaws, VW looks very strong in Europe. Tesla would have to boost its market cap by another 40% to catch up with VW, but given Tesla’s market cap growth of 85% in the past year, a rise of half the size doesn’t seem impossible.