It’s difficult to get comfortable in the driver’s seat of a $100,000 car that isn’t yours.

The particular Model S I flew to Los Angeles to sample last week was a Signature Performance model. That means that it was one of the first 1,000 to roll off the assembly line (indicated by the “Signature” designation) and is fitted with a high-output electric inverter that can propel the car from 0 to 60 in just 4.4 seconds, a key metric that slots it in with some of the fastest production sedans in the world. It’s a stat I would come to test on numerous occasions over the following 36 hours — within the bounds of the “no street racing” clause I agreed to upon taking delivery, of course.

But I arrived in LA fully expecting to hate this modern marvel of a car. I was raised in Detroit, the son of a woman who has worked at General Motors for nearly half a century. Tesla’s emergence was, perhaps, a little uncomfortable for someone who’d grown up surrounded by the infallible Big Three. I felt a little bit like former Palm CEO Ed Colligan in his infamous (and ill-fated) takedown of the iPhone: “they’re not just going to walk in,” I thought. The regulatory and financial hurdles are enormous just to make a single terrible car, let alone a good one that people will actually want to buy.

This is the same market that has chewed up and spit out pillars of the industry like Saab. It has bankrupted GM and Chrysler, sent Ford to the brink. Fisker Automotive — a Tesla competitor with similar ambitions — is on the ropes, desperately seeking a buyer and a cash infusion. How can billionaire Elon Musk’s venture possibly amass the money, know-how, ingenuity, and quality to shake up the automotive world? And just as importantly, do it profitably?

Those aren’t easy questions to answer. Tesla hopes for its first quarter of black ink this year after a decade of operation, but make no mistake, it’s still in the throes of startupdom. Much of its working capital has come from nearly half a billion dollars in low-interest rate government loans. It has just a few dozen dealers around the world. Even Tesla’s choice of Palo Alto for its headquarters — some 2,000 miles from the Motor City — is a little audacious. This isn’t your granddad’s car company; it’s a child of the Valley.