It’s July 1, 2003, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning go to the California Business Registration Office. Respectively CEO and CFO, the two friends officially created Tesla Motors Inc.
Their objective ? Make it an automaker that’s also a technology company. The two men have no employees but already see themselves building their own software and batteries for electric cars.
The world needs batteries
Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning have just sold their e-reader company for $187 million. For years Eberhard would like to have fun with a sports car but dreams of an electric vehicle.
After meeting the bosses of AC Propulsion, he was invited to try out their prototype, the tZero. Convinced, he tries to convince AC Propulsion to market it. But the answer falls: impossible, no battery technology is really developed.
But Eberhard, who is familiar with the lithium-ion batteries used in his e-readers, is certain: this technology can revolutionize batteries for electric vehicles.
A very involved shareholder
In February 2004, while the company’s employees were still counted on the fingers of one hand, the company raised 7.5 million dollars, including 6.5 million from Elon Musk, a young Californian entrepreneur who became rich after having sold its stake in PayPal two years earlier.
At first, Elon Musk becomes Chairman of the Board of Directors and main shareholder of Tesla, without however taking an interest in the management of the company.
But things will change quickly. The young entrepreneur wants to oversee the design of the first Tesla car.
His goal is ambitious: to make Tesla the first mass electric car manufacturer. But to start, Tesla will make an agreement with Lotus.
A Lotus Elise chassis
The stakes are high: to prove to the world that it is possible to make an electric car that is both efficient and durable. The English manufacturer Lotus has developed an incredibly light chassis for its Elise, only 65 kilos.
Lotus and Tesla make an agreement for the delivery of 2,500 chassis for the first Tesla model. On paper, the idea is excellent.
Using the Elise chassis saves Tesla years of study and development. In fact, the bases of the English are not at all suitable for electric.
Elon Musk says: “At the end, there was not much left of this damn car. We modified the Elise so much, that the release of the first roadster took much longer than expected”.
DarkStar, the cursed project
If the Elise’s chassis is wasting Tesla’s time, AC Propulsion’s technology is hardly more usable. Tesla engineers modify batteries so much that no company patents will be used.
The battery is made up of 6831 cells, found in laptop computers. Eleven layers are superimposed, each containing nine blocks of 69 cells. Meanwhile, the first customers are getting impatient and Elon Musk has to put his hand in his pocket several times to keep Tesla alive.
Since his arrival, he has invested more than $70 million in personal money. He has no room for error, and yet the management of the company by its founders does not suit him.
The founders pushed out
In August 2007, Eberhard was called by the board of directors, led by Elon Musk. He asks him to leave his post as CEO. A few months later, he left all functions in Tesla, soon imitated by Marc Tarpenning, another co-founder.
After a waltz of CEO during the year 2007, it is finally Elon Musk himself who takes the reins of Tesla in 2008. The first copy of the Roadster leaves the Tesla factory in February 2008, it will be the copy of Musk.
The car develops 248 horsepower, has a range of 370 km and goes from 0 to 100 in four seconds. Tesla has just proven to the world that we can build a desirable and efficient electric car.
Elon Musk, who now has his hands free, is already seeing further. He wants to develop a consumer range to lower costs.
As for the very first Roadster, that of Elon Musk, it will be sent into space on February 6, 2018, where it is still today!