SAN JOSE — On a day when the stock market tanked, Tesla Motors beat even the most bullish of expectations.
The electric car company's stock shot up 41 percent Tuesday in its first day of public trading, the second-best start of an IPO this year.
The debut of the Palo Alto-based company, which makes the $109,000 all-electric Roadster but hasn't turned a profit, marked the first initial public offering of a domestic automaker in a half-century.
"Going public is a huge coming out for any company," said Tesla CEO Elon Musk before ringing the opening bell of the Nasdaq on Tuesday morning. "This is a fantastic day."
Several Tesla executives and board members flew to New York for the occasion but were en route back to the Bay Area on Tuesday afternoon for a small, internal celebration planned at Tesla's Deer Creek Road headquarters Tuesday evening.
"Everyone is really excited and proud," said Tesla representative Khobi Brooklyn. "But we're still a company that has a ton of work to do."
Tesla's Roadster was on display in Times Square on Tuesday, and some members of the public were able to take it for a test drive around 43rd Street and Broadway.
Tesla's stock, initially priced at $17 per share, climbed $6.89 to close at $23.89, then rose to $24 a share in after-hours trading.
"This is what you would call a successful IPO. It's a really good sign that there is an appetite out there for concept plays," said Jim Fulton, co-leader of Cooley's Clean Energy and Technologies group. "You just hope that the stock continues to show this kind of strength going forward. Being a public company is not a one-day event."
The company's first-day success is all the more remarkable because many cleantech startups, most notably Fremont-based solar manufacturer Solyndra, have put their IPO plans on hold because of stock market jitters.
Other cleantech companies have gone public only to see their stock fizzle after the initial hype had passed. Advanced batterymaker A123 Systems, which grew out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saw its share prices rise more than 50 percent on the first day of trading to close over $20 last fall. But on Tuesday, it closed at $9.19.
But Tesla has already beaten the odds. Interest from investors was so high that Tesla priced its IPO at $17 a share, higher than its estimated range of $14 to $16.
"Tesla has technological spunkiness," said Nat Goldhaber, managing director of Claremont Creek Ventures. "Licensing their technology to other companies is going to be a significant source of revenue. There's an enormous amount of cleantech now that is about electric transportation."
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.