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Investment community gives Tesla Motors vote of confidence

Tesla says it will start selling its battery-powered Model S sedan in June, a month ahead of schedule. (Tesla Motors / May 11, 2012)

DeLorean Motor Co. never had a future to get back to. Tucker Corp. got torpedoed. Fisker Automotive doesn’t seem to have good karma.

Launching a new auto business and building a brand in the U.S. is no simple task.

But inch by inch, electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. seems to be doing just that.

“Tesla continues to show its ability to manage expectations and deliver on what it promises,” Morgan Stanley Research auto analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a report to investors.

Tesla “surpassed our expectations as momentum heading into the company’s summer Model S launch continues to build,” analysts at Barclays Capital told their clients.

Both investment houses were reacting to Tesla’s first-quarter earnings report this week.

Tesla said its first-quarter loss widened to $89.9 million, from a $48.9-million deficit a year earlier, as it spent more on car development expenses. Revenue dropped 38% to $30.2 million.

Normally those aren’t stellar numbers. But Palo Alto-based Tesla is still essentially a start-up and burns a lot of cash. What grabbed the attention of analysts was the announcement by Chief Executive Elon Musk that the company is advancing Model S sedan deliveries to June from July and that it has more than 10,000 orders for the battery-powered car.

The sedan offers seating for five adults and, in some configurations. room for an extra two children’s seats. It also is to have some speed, with an anticipated zero-to-60 acceleration of less than six seconds.

The announcement alleviates investor jitters that the automaker might be facing some unforeseen roadblock in launching production and getting the car onto the road by its promised time, Barclays Capital noted.

Model S sales also will start bringing badly needed cash into the company. The price of the Model S ranges from $49,900 to $97,900, depending on its mileage range and options, after a federal $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. Early sales will be of the most expensive model.

Morgan Stanley forecasts that Tesla will sell close to 3,000 cars this year, 16,000 next year and 19,000 in the following year.
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