Morgan Stanley is starting to show some serious Tesla skepticism

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Tesla Model 3

Tesla Motors

Morgan Stanley's lead auto analyst Adam Jonas sent a research note to clients Wednesday on Tesla, cutting his price target for the stock to $242 from $245.

On Wednesday, Tesla shares were trading up slightly, about 2% to $195.

Jonas has been a reliable Tesla bull, but he's wrestling with some of the electric automaker's recent moves, as well as CEO Elon Musk's projections for the future.

For starters, Jonas said in the note that Tesla's destiny lies with building vehicles and moving people around:

We continue to believe the ultimate outcome of Tesla's fundamental direction and share price performance will be dominated by its core automobile and transportation business. At a high level, we view Tesla's share price as influenced by 3 main factors: (1) The quality and appeal of its cars, (2) the pace of cash consumption, and (3) the company's ability to access capital markets to fund ambitious investment and growth objectives. We see the current business of selling high performance electric cars as largely a funding strategy. The bigger mission remains developing a sustainable transportation ecosystem.

Of course, Tesla isn't just a transportation company any longer; it just completed a merger with SolarCity, and the last time we saw Musk giving a presentation, he was trying to sell us a new solar roo f.

And Jonas isn't a fan of either Tesla Energy, the company's power-storage business, or the SolarCity deal, at least from an investor's standpoint:

Given SCTY's financial condition and recent reduction in guidance, we have assumed zero value for SCTY equity to TSLA shareholders of $0. This dilution to equity with zero value compensation removed $20 from our price target, resulting in a net negative adjustment to our Tesla price target of $3, or a 1% cut from our prior target. Our price target also assumes $0 value from Tesla Energy (stationary storage).

Ouch. Jonas also reiterated his view that the Model 3 mass-market vehicle, scheduled to arrive in late 2017, will be delayed until 2018 and won't get anywhere near fulfilling its nearly 400,000 pre-orders.

"We continue to forecast a Model 3 launch at the very end of 2018 (more than 1 year later than company target) with 60k units in 2019 and 130k units in 2020," Jonas wrote.

Musk has pledged that Tesla will be delivering 500,000 vehicles annually by 2018. (For what it's worth, I think Jonas is wrong about this one. We already saw a prototype version of the Model 3 in March of 2016, so getting to modest production and a vehicle launch by late 2017 should be well within Tesla's grasp.)

Finally, Jonas outlines a bear case for Tesla shares that sees them plummeting to $50. That's an extreme-risk scenario, however, but it does provide a sense of how much value there currently is in Tesla's main carmaking and sales operation.

Jonas, of course, is far from a Tesla bear. But he is a pretty smart bull, and it's always worth taking his assessments of the company's potential downside seriously.

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