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Elon Musk is trying to achieve something the manufacturing world has never seen before

Sam Ro
Managing Editor

Tesla's (TSLA) Elon Musk is one of the more ambitious entrepreneurs the world has ever seen.

But despite all that he has already accomplished with his electric car company, there is no shortage of folks who are skeptical about Musk's intermediate-term goals.

In Tesla's Q1 earnings announcement, Musk announced plans to ramp up capital expenditures to support an incredibly aggressive plan to increase production capacity.

“Given our plans to advance our 500,000 total unit build plan, essentially doubling the prior growth plan, we are re-evaluating our level of capital expenditures, but expect it will be about 50% higher than our previous guidance of $1.5 billion for 2016," Musk said.

To be clear, Musk expects Tesla to be producing 500,000 vehicles per year by 2018, a target that was moved up from 2020.

For some context, management expects to produce just 20,000 vehicles in the current quarter. And for more context, Tesla missed production targets in Q1 due to what Musk characterized as "hubris."

But for Musk, this is about meeting red-hot demand for Tesla's vehicles, including the moderately priced Model 3.

"Naturally, this will impact our ability to be net cash flow positive for the year, but given the demand for Model 3, investing to meet that demand is the best long-term decision for Tesla,” he said.

"Hell bent" on achieving something "we don't believe has ever been seen before"

"The story is now about execution," RBC analyst Joseph Spak said.

Spak has a $252 price target on the stock, but rates it sector perform.  TSLA closed at $222 on Wednesday.

"TSLA may be 'hell bent' on becoming the best manufacturing company on earth," Spak added. "They may very well even get there. But aggressive ramp (doubling the prior growth plan) raises the risk to new investment and, for now, balances out the growth opportunity."

Musk doesn't expect production growth to just stop at 500,000 per year in 2018.

“It's better to say like our 2020 target for volume is closer to maybe close to 1 million vehicles in 2020 or something like that,” he said during the company's earnings call. “Over a half million in 2018, and then roughly 50%ish growth from there, then it's probably around 1 million in 2020.”

For risk-averse investors, that may be a little too ambitious, especially considering recent hiccups the company has experience.

"Given the opportunity Tesla has in front of them, we are all for setting aggressive targets (plus this seems to be Musk’s MO)," Spak said. "However, Tesla is increasingly asking the equity investor to sign up for a complex manufacturing ramp (5x in 2 years) the likes of which we don’t believe has ever been seen before."

"This brings both elevated expectations and execution risk. For the investor with long-term horizons this is less of a concern."

Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance

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