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[video] Detroit Auto Show: Sizing Up Tesla's Competition

Stocks in this article: TSLA GM NSANY F TM HMC

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) stock rocketed immediately following its press conference at the Detroit Auto Show, closing Thursday at $170.97. But that wasn't the only good news for Tesla in Detroit. There is a far more important and fundamental story driving Tesla in the relatively near term.

Of all the numerous interesting and important considerations for investors who are betting for and against Tesla, certainly near the top of the list is the one about competition. We know what the competition is today, but where will it be in one, two, three years from now?

Obviously, at some level, Tesla doesn't have any competition -- today anyway. Nobody else makes a powerful and spacious all-electric car with 265 miles of range or anywhere close to it. Hard-core segmentation purists will therefore say that Tesla has zero competition today.

However, I could also make the claim that on the margins, cars such as the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and the soon-to-arrive BMW i3 are and will be taking sales from Tesla. This, despite the vast differences in price -- duh! -- and various capabilities such as acceleration, range and interior space.

In other words, some people who buy a Tesla have cast a very wide net in their purchase decision. They may never have stretched that high up in the price scale before or had any interest in buying a car at that price even if they had plenty of money. Some Tesla buyers indeed find themselves in this gray zone where traditional purchase metrics don't apply.

With this in mind, what does Tesla's competition look like based on my conversations with numerous auto industry executives at the Detroit Auto Show?

I find only two auto makers who give the impression of wanting and planning to go after Tesla as hard as possible, as soon as possible: General Motors  (GM - Get Report) and BMW. Does this mean they will have a head-to-head competitor to the Tesla Model S by 2016 or so? Not necessarily. It does not need to be an identical head-to-head kind of car, and perhaps not by 2016.

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