Late Monday night, I received a phone call from a jubilant friend who was ecstatic over, of all things, an automotive magazine's recent announcement.
"Guess what?" he rhetorically shouted in my ear, "The car in my garage is now Motor Trend's Car of the Year!"
You see, my friend recently took delivery of a Tesla Motors (TSLA +1.36%) Model S sedan, the all-electric luxury sports sedan that is the brainchild of the company's genius CEO, Elon Musk. My friend was quick to point out that my vehicle of choice -- the newly designed Porsche 911 -- failed to beat out the Model S for the prestigious designation by the leading automotive industry magazine.
He also pointed out that this was a true turning point for the auto industry, as it was the first time in the 63-year history of the award that a vehicle with a non-combustion engine has been given the prize.
The decision by a cadre of Motor Trend editors and auto industry veterans also was the first time in the magazine's history that the vote for the top honor was unanimous. That's pretty impressive to me, as a journalist, because when you get three journalists in a room, you usually have about a dozen different opinions.
However, the Motor Trend decision isn't just pure opinion.
After putting some 45 potential Car of the Year candidates to a 10-day stress test, the Model S came out on top for what the magazine described as the car's superb acceleration, handling, open cabin and 250-mile range.
Now, for those who are concerned with Tesla and the auto industry for more than just the thrill of driving, the Car of the Year award might be viewed as a potential boost for sales, and for the company's bottom line -- and by extension, for the price of TSLA shares.
Those shares have had a volatile year and have been the target of some very heavy short selling. Still, year-to-date, Tesla stock is up 13.5%.
But do Car of the Year honors mean a boost for that model, for the company and for its share price? Not always, if recent history is any guide.
For example, last year (the 2012 model year), Volkswagen's (VLKAY -0.35%) Passat sedan captured the Motor Trend honor, and that helped the car experience a surge in sales in both the U.S. and China. Over the past year, shares of Europe's biggest automaker have accelerated by more than 14% despite a recession in its home region. Passat sales and sales of other popular models in the U.S. and China helped offset slowing sales in the eurozone of other models, so in this case, I suspect the Car of the Year honor did indeed provide a lift.
It was an entirely different story two years ago (the 2011 model year), as General Motors' (GM +8.00%) Chevrolet Volt was awarded Car of the Year. That vehicle was very slow to catch on, and it still hasn't caught on very well when compared to other cars in its class, such as Toyota's (TM +1.99%) Camry Hybrid. In recent months, the Volt has begun to pick up in terms of sales ... but when you factor in the cost of production, some industry analysts think the car is a big net money loser.
In 2009 (2010 model year), the Ford (F +1.33%) Fusion midsize sedan took the top award, and since then the economical-but-fun-to-drive vehicle has been a big seller for Ford. Since November 2009, Ford shares are up a very robust 34%, as investors have largely embraced the one Detroit automaker that didnít require a taxpayer bailout.
So, again, will the Model S's new trophy result in a boom for Tesla shares?
Well, shares jumped off the starting line nearly 3% in Tuesday trade and finished up 1.75% -- a positive sign. And they are up slightly Wednesday, as well.
I have long been bullish on Tesla as both a company and a stock, as I believe the quality of production, design and care put into each vehicle will allow the brand to appeal to auto industry purists, high-end car buyers, and buyers of the latest high-tech lifestyle tools.
We'll have to wait until early next year to see if the Car of the Year honor is actually a boost to Tesla's bottom line, but if my suspicions are correct, then look for the Model S to see electrified sales between now and the end of the year -- and hence more upside for TSLA.