LOS ANGELES -- In the land of auto giants, Tesla Motors is a Lilliputian, a fledgling electric-car manufacturer with uncertain prospects.
But by one measure Tesla stands among the big boys. The company's $8.8 billion stock market value at the end of last week exceeded Fiat's $7.8 billion and was about three times that of PSA Peugeot Citroen, the French automaker that has been around for 125 years.
This for a 10-year-old company that has sold fewer than 10,000 cars and managed to eke out its first quarterly profit last week only because it sold $68 million in zero-emission vehicle credits to other automakers.
But Wall Street analysts are forward-looking, taking potential earnings into account when valuing stock. And they have been influenced by the upfront and contentious style of Elon Musk, Tesla's 41-year-old founder and CEO, whose cult of personality has wowed the investment community.
Operating on the edge of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's fair-disclosure rules, Musk's steady flow of Twitter posts about Tesla have corresponded with a swift rise in the share price. He has repeatedly halted dips in the price with well-timed tweets.
From Jan. 1 through May 10 -- the day after Tesla reported its $11 million first-quarter profit -- the stock price per share more than doubled, from $35 to $76.70 at Friday's close. Overall, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 13 percent since Jan. 1.
It didn't hurt that on the same day Tesla's earnings were released Tesla's Model S sports car received the highest score in Consumer Reports' ratings -- a 99 out of 100 -- along with widespread plaudits from the magazine's automotive testing staff.
By some reckoning, Musk has done the impossible: create a profitable carmaker from scratch, says John Casesa, an investment banker with Guggenheim Partners in New York. But Musk seems to have positioned Tesla as a technology play as much as an auto venture, which may be why Wall Street is listening.
"There is nothing to compare it against, so the market overreacts," Casesa said. "It's a clean-sheet unknown entity, with not a lot of data to go on except for what comes from the company. In the absence of ways to triangulate data on this business, anything that comes from the company or CEO is heavily relied upon."
In an era of plain-vanilla executives who weigh every syllable, Musk's outspoken manner has made him something of a Wall Street darling.