Is startup electric-car maker Tesla really worth more than century-old Italian carmaker Fiat?

Not to mention more than Mazda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, and Isuzu--the last two of which no longer sell cars in the U.S.?

The Italian maker sells roughly 2 million cars a year globally (plus 1.6 million more from Chrysler, which it controls).

Tesla hopes to sell 20,000 or so this year, or about 1 percent of the Fiat total.

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Market cap: $20 billion

But Tesla's current value of roughly $20 billion would indicate that the market today thinks it is in fact worth more than Fiat.

This is depicted in a neat little graphic we saw on SeekingAlpha, the prolific and often controversial investing site.

Excerpt from market-capitalization graphic showing Tesla Motors [source: Bloomberg]

Excerpt from market-capitalization graphic showing Tesla Motors [source: Bloomberg]

(The graphic is sourced to Bloomberg, whose author Alan Ohnsman noted Tesla's rise to $20 billion of market capitalization two days ago.)

Please note: We don't do investment advice on this site.

We provide news, analysis, and a range of opinions about the broadest possible range of green cars.

ALSO SEE: Tesla: As Disruptive To U.S. Car Market As Toyota, Nissan Were?

Investor darling

But current market darling Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] earns a lot of attention not only here, but also on a whole range of investing sites.

And the author of the piece we found, Christopher Drose, is bullish on Tesla. Very, very bullish.

(The site properly discloses that he owns stock in the company.)

We spend a lot of time educating readers and the public at large about how the auto industry really works.

It's a fully global business with long product lead times, immense capital requirements, and relatively low product margins.

2014 Mazda 3

2014 Mazda 3

Challenged carmakers

And certainly all four of the companies worth less than Tesla have major challenges.

Mazda lost its corporate protector, Ford, several years ago when the U.S. company sold its shares in Mazda to develop its own small cars.

Despite its reputation for building some of the best-handling volume cars around, Mazda produces in volumes that are low by global standards--which is viewed as a challenge over the long term.

Mitsubishi is the perennial stepchild of the Japanese industry. With the departure of Suzuki from the U.S. market, it is the weakest of the country's makers left here.

Its mainstream products are second-tier, its i-MiEV electric minicar has sold barely 1,600 copies over two years, and its upcoming Outlander Plug-In Hybrid crossover is likely to be a low-volume entry at best.

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Suzuki, Isuzu gone

Suzuki withdrew from the U.S. earlier this year, and it too has no large corporate parent after a tie-up with the Volkswagen Group went horribly wrong when German and Japanese executives failed to see eye-to-eye over whether VW's shareholding was a partnership or a "controlling interest".

2007 Isuzu Ascender S

2007 Isuzu Ascender S

And Isuzu departed from the U.S. market in 2008 after selling only rebadged GM vehicles for several years. Globally, it now sells mostly trucks.

So it's a fairly weak group that Tesla dominates.

On the other hand, Tesla's built less than 20,000 cars to date, two orders of magnitude less than any of the others.

And the valuations of the strongest global automakers still trounce Tesla's, with Toyota being worth more than 10 times as much.

How to value for growth?

It does raise the question, though: What's the real worth of a startup automaker that may have a lasting impact on the global industry?

More broadly, where do you see Tesla ranking--in volume, in value, and in influence--10 years hence?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

Remember: No investment advice, please!


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