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Tesla’s valuation ‘inexplicable,’ top U.S. auto dealer says

This file photo taken on September 30, 2016 shows a man inspecting a Tesla model X in Paris during the Paris Motor Show.

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images

America's biggest auto dealer isn't sold on Tesla Inc. becoming the top U.S. automaker by market capitalization.

The relative value of Tesla and General Motors Co. is headed for a correction, as the latter is "clearly" undervalued, Mike Jackson, the chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc., said Tuesday. A week after topping Ford Motor Co., Tesla's market cap climbed to $50.9-billion at Monday's close, valuing the electric-car maker as worth about $64-million more than GM.

"It's either one of the great Ponzi schemes of all time or it's all going to work out" for Tesla, Mr. Jackson said at a conference in New York hosted by the National Automobile Dealers Association and J.D. Power. "It's totally inexplicable, as far as its valuation."

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Tesla's surpassing of GM and Ford has spurred debate over the relative value of the Elon Musk-led company compared with some of the world's top-selling automakers. Tesla delivered fewer than 80,000 vehicles last year and has only reported two profitable quarters in its short history. GM, on the other hand, sold more than 10 million vehicles and expects to earn more than $9-billion this year.

Tesla representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Jackson's remarks. The Palo Alto, California-based company sells vehicles through its own stores and has battled in court with dealers who argue Tesla violates laws against direct sales by auto manufacturers.

Although Mr. Jackson, 68, was dismissive of Tesla's valuation, he praised the job Mr. Musk has done to build fervor for his company's cars.

"You have to tip your hat that he's created a brand that has a strong, cult-like following," Mr. Jackson said of Mr. Musk, 45.

GM's market value edged back above Tesla's as of 1:35 p.m. Tuesday in New York trading. Tesla traded down 0.8 per cent while GM dropped 0.4 per cent.

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