Elon Musk’s Tesla has passed General Motors to become America’s most valuable carmaker, according to reports.

Tesla climbed as much as 3.7% in early Monday trading, boosting its market capitalisation to US$51bn, Bloomberg reported. The company was valued at about $1.7bn more than GM as of 9:35 am (BST 14:35) in New York and the two have jostled for the lead spot in subsequent trading.

Bloomberg said the turnabout shows the extent to which investors have bought into Musk’s vision that electric vehicles will eventually rule the road. While GM has beat Tesla to market with a plug-in Chevrolet Bolt with a price and range similar to what Musk has promised for his Model 3 sedan coming later this year, the more than century-old company has failed to match the enthusiasm drummed up by its much smaller and rarely profitable US peer.

“Tesla engenders optimism, freedom, defiance, and a host of other emotions that, in our view, other companies cannot replicate,” Alexander Potter, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos, who upgraded the stock on Monday after owning a Tesla for seven months and meeting with management, told Bloomberg. “As they scramble to catch up, we think Tesla’s competitors only make themselves appear more desperate.”

Tesla usurped GM a week after conquering Ford and spurring debate over the relative value of Musk’s company compared with some of the world’s top-selling automakers. GM expects to earn more than $9bn this year and analysts predict Ford will generate adjusted profit of about $6.3bn. On that basis, Tesla is expected to lose more than $950m.

Assuming Tesla closes at a higher valuation than GM, Bloomberg said, it will rank the sixth-highest valued carmaker by market cap, behind Toyota Motor, Daimler, Volkswagen, BMW and Honda Motor. While Musk, 45, has a long way to go to match Toyota’s $172bn market cap, Honda is barely ahead at about $52bn.

“The market cares more about the potential new market value of the other businesses Tesla is in than about real profits and cash flow,” David Whiston, an analyst at Morningstar, told Bloomberg. “Right now there is nothing to slow Tesla’s momentum. They could pass Honda, too.”

Bloomberg noted Tesla has long been treated like a technology stock with investors betting on its ability to dominate a market for electric cars and energy storage. To those same investors, GM and Ford are headed for a slowdown in car sales that will erode profits.

“Is it fair? No, it isn’t fair,” Maryann Keller, an auto-industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut, told Bloomberg. “Even if Tesla turns a profit, they will eventually have to make enough to justify this valuation.”

Tesla delivered fewer than 80,000 vehicles globally last year to GM’s more than 10m. Musk’s more-affordable Model 3 sedan, scheduled to roll out later this year, will be critical to his ambitions for Tesla to transform from niche carmaker into a mass-market manufacturer.

The Model 3 is expected to sell for about $35,000 and boast at least 215 miles (350km) of battery range per charge, marks GM achieved with the Bolt that began selling in California earlier this year.

“Tesla’s products have a captivating impact on consumers and shareholders alike; this advantage will be difficult to replicate,” Potter, the Piper Jaffray analyst, wrote in a report Monday cited by Bloomberg. “Even if the Model 3 production launch goes badly, we think customers (and more importantly shareholders) will withhold judgment.”