What you emphasize in the Tesla narrative explains conclusions as different as Stifel Nicolaus' James Albertine, who thinks Tesla is worth $400 a share today, and Barclays' Brian Johnson and Goldman Sachs' Patrick Archambault, who argue Tesla is worth $220 and $216, respectively—each below its current price of $242.
All the analysts project that Tesla will be bigger and more valuable one day than it is now. The argument is over how bumpy the road will be to get there and whether that matters to investors.
"The bumps don't matter, because there is no competition there,'' said Theodore O'Neill, Ascendiant Capital Markets analyst. He added that other luxury car makers aren't close to producing long-range electric vehicles comparable to Tesla. "They're taking share from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar, and none of them have figured out a way to stop it. Bumps like that in a normal environment would let competitors swoop in. That's not happening," O'Neill said.
"If they have to put off the Model X a little longer to make sure it's all right, I'm totally OK with that,'' O'Neill said. "The customers are still there.''
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For optimists, the core of the argument is Musk's claims that the Model S alone is enough to sell 50,000 cars next year and grow 50 percent annually for the foreseeable future. By 2018, that could put Tesla past $16 billion in sales. That would be even before it sells a single Model X—expected to cost close to the $100,000-plus price tag of a Model S—or any of the Model 3 sedans the company hopes will let it push into the larger market of more affordable cars, costing $30,000 to $35,000.
"The demand argument has been the biggest bear argument on Tesla, and they knocked that out of the way," said Robert W. Baird analyst Ben Kallo on CNBC.