NEW YORK – Wall Street undervalues General Motors and overvalues Tesla, but that topsy-turvy irony won’t last, says Michael Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership chain.

Electric-vehicle maker Tesla hit a new first on Monday when its shares closed at $312.39. On paper, that makes it valued at about $50.9 billion, more than GM.

The seeming imbalance is ephemeral, Jackson predicts.

“There will be a correction in the next few years,” he says at an annual Automotive Forum that J.D. Power and the National Automobile Dealers Assn. put on in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show.

“Tesla is inexplicable in terms of valuation,” Jackson says of the start-up that sells two vehicle models and enjoys a cult-like customer base, however small. The company sold about 76,000 vehicles last year. GM delivered more than 3 million, according to WardsAuto.

Tesla investors reportedly believe the company, headed by charismatic Elon Musk, will grow as worldwide electric-vehicle sales increase.

Jackson is skeptical.   

“(Tesla) is either one of the greatest Ponzi schemes of all time, or we’ll figure it all out,” he says. “What would impress me about Tesla? Selling vehicles at a profit.”  

Jackson is known for his outspokenness as well as his tenure running a dealership group that sold nearly 600,000 new and used vehicles last year and had total revenue of $21.5 billion.

During a conference Q&A, he opined on various topics, including:

  • Some automakers’ stair-step dealer-incentive programs. “They are unimaginably disruptive. They are not sustainable over the years. The only question is how much damage is done before they stop.”

  • Donald Trump. “I didn’t vote for him, because I didn’t think he had the temperament to be president of the United States. We’re seeing that now. One day, he acts like a 70-year-old man, the next day, like a petulant 7-year- old.”

    However Jackson praises Trump both for addressing alleged excessive government regulations and ordering a military response against Syria for using chemical weapons during its bloody civil war. 

  • Rural dealers. “I cannot for the life of me understand why manufacturers make life difficult for rural dealers. Manufacturers should be thankful they exist. They care for their markets in a way that’s a labor of love.” That comment drew applause from the auto-industry audience.

    sfinlay@wardsauto.com