Tesla Is No Longer the Most Valuable American Automaker

Updated: Jul 06, 2017 11:58 AM ET

News that Tesla Motors was on track to release its lower-cost Model 3 sedan starting in late July wasn't enough to stop an extended sell off.

Tesla shares fell 3.5% in early trading Thursday, dethroning the company from its position of most valuable automaker by market capitalization. They continued to lose ground during the day and closed Thursday down 5.6% at a six-week low. By the close, the company was valued at about $50.7 billion, slightly below General Motors' $52.6 billion market cap.

Tesla first became the most valuable American automaker in April. That happened in part due to excitement over the Model 3, a $35,000 car that the company's supporters hope could revolutionize the automotive industry.

The stock's recent plunge came despite news Sunday that the first batch of Model 3 vehicles would reach customers on July 28. Investors were initially pleased with the news, with the stock jumping about 2%.

But a less bullish update a day later helped spark the selloff. On Monday, Tesla said it had delivered 22,000 vehicles in the second quarter of 2017, just barely meeting its estimates. No stranger to production woes, the company blamed the miss on a shortfall of battery packs.

Goldman Sachs helped nudge the stock down further Wednesday, arguing that that Tesla shares would fall to $180 within the next six months, because the Model 3's launch schedule implied weaker results than what Tesla's overall production targets stated. The stock is currently trading at about $317. Goldman has maintained its "sell" rating on the company.

Still, Tesla could reclaim its mantle as the most valuable U.S. car company if it manages to stay on track with its Model 3 schedule.

But the stock remains highly volatile, in part because it's considered a growth company. That means its valuation is based on what investors are betting it will be worth in the future, rather than a reflection of its present performance. So any bit of good news could add billions to the company's valuation, while any roadblocks — like a mishap with Model 3 estimates — could sent the company back down to earth.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Tesla’s market position in April. It became the most valuable automaker in the United States that month, not the most valuable in the world. The story has also been updated with closing stock price information.

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