All the wrong things pay off for Tesla

When the wireless microphone a questioner was using temporarily malfunctioned, someone in the crowd joked, “The battery ran out.” Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
UPDATED: 1/14/14 4:34 pm ET

DETROIT -- Among the unspoken rules that automakers typically follow at an auto show:

  • Don't put an executive onstage holding note cards.
  • Don't tell the world you plan to be reckless.
  • Don't hand the microphone to journalists who want to ask about vehicles catching fire and a new recall.
  • Do show a new car.

Tesla Motors broke all of those rules Tuesday with perhaps the least rehearsed, most amateurish-looking press conference of any automaker at this year's Detroit auto show.

The consequences? Its stock surged 16 percent.

Meanwhile, shares of Ford Motor Co., which spent millions of dollars and countless hours orchestrating a blockbuster reveal of its new, aluminum-clad F-150 pickup, barely moved afterward.

Clearly, investors don't care about auto-show theatrics. And many of Tesla's fiercely loyal, enthusiastic customers don't mind that the maker of their auto doesn't try to act like any other automaker.

"We're a startup -- a small company from California," Jerome Guillen, Tesla's vice president of worldwide sales and service, said during Tuesday's press conference in Detroit.

Tesla's press conference consisted of nothing more than Guillen and another vice president, Diarmuid O'Connell, standing on a bare white platform in front of a large crowd of media.

Guillen occasionally looked down at notes in his hand and sounded as though he hadn't thought much about what to say until the plane ride to Detroit.

Seven minutes after Guillen started speaking, Tesla's stock had risen $10 a share.

Guillen: Tesla sold more cars than expected at the end of 2013. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Guillen said Tesla sold more cars than expected at the end of 2013 and that the company would experience "reckless growth" in 2014. He later sent an e-mail saying he had intended to use the word "relentless."

He opened up the floor for a question-and-answer period, something most automakers reserve for small groups of reporters or one-on-one interviews rather than with dozens of TV cameras rolling.

When the wireless microphone a questioner was using temporarily malfunctioned, someone in the crowd joked, "The battery ran out."

A short while later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk posted four sentences on Twitter, arguing that what federal regulators consider a recall isn't really a recall. "The word 'recall' needs to be recalled," Musk tweeted.

Tesla's stock went up more.

It closed at $161.27, a gain of 16 percent on the day and a 10-week high.

And by that measure, Tesla put on the most effective performance of the show.

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