Car enthusiast and former "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno has been a Tesla fan and owner for a long time, and he credits CEO Elon Musk with making it the most valuable automaker in the world.
Tesla's market cap hit $1 trillion earlier this week, sending Musk's net worth skyrocketing near $300 billion after Hertz announced it will be ordering 100,000 vehicles to build out its electric vehicle rental fleet.
Musk, who co-founded the company, has been instrumental in making Tesla the success it is today, Leno says. In his view, the things that make Tesla's cars unique, like the inclusion of the "Ludicrous mode" speed booster on some of its models, only exist because Musk owns more than 20% of the company and can demand that they be that way.
He compares Musk to visionaries like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison who could drive innovation "because they own the whole deal."
Get DFW local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC DFW newsletters.
"Can you imagine any of the major automobile manufacturers saying 'Let's call this high performance feature 'Plaid' like they did in 'Spaceballs' as a joke?'" Leno says, referring to Tesla's most high-powered vehicle. "You'd be fired or thrown out of the office. But when you own the company? Well, my car says 'Plaid' on the back of it." (In the 1987 movie "Spaceballs," spacecraft accelerate from light- to ridiculous- then ludicrous-speed and finally into "plaid.")
Musk's ability to influence design choices, such as the new steering wheel shape on its Model S cars, allow Tesla to stand out from the competition "because it's one person's idea of what it should be."
"When you own the company, you can do whatever you want," Leno says. "Some people love it and some people hate it, but that's why all other cars look alike. Because everything else has to be designed by committee."
It's not the first time Leno has applauded Musk's vision. He previously praised the CEO for leading the charge in a developing industry and for investing in infrastructure that makes driving an electric car — Teslas, in particular — more practical, such as the dedicated charging stations the company has built across the country.
"Jay Leno's Garage" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CNBC.
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter