Tesla is currently one of the most well-known automakers in the world. Whether you know it for Elon Musk or the EVs produced, you know the name.
Because Tesla is still a relatively new name in the automotive market, some think this company was founded and begun by Elon Musk, but that’s not the case. This company was originally founded in 2003 by a pair of engineers, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in San Carlos, California. During its time in existence, this company has changed from being Tesla Motors to Tesla Inc. not much of a stretch, but still a change.
Why was the name chosen?
As many would easily guess, the company was named for the 19th-century inventor bearing the same name. Nikola was known for discovering the properties of rotating electromagnetic fields, which eventually led to what we know as alternating electric current. During the early days of electrical use and adoption, there were two opposing groups, one supporting direct current, which was favored by Thomas Edison, and the other supporting alternating currents. When it came to wiring homes and creating the electric grid it’s easy to see that alternating currents won out and is most widely used today.
What were the goals in the early days
The early days of this new company saw Eberhard as the CEO and Tarpenning as the CFO. These two engineers sought to produce an entirely electric car that would use some of the engineering and qualities from the successful EV1 from GM. The GM EV1 program only lasted from 1996 to 1999 and never produced a car for public purchase. It might seem strange to build something from a program that never produced a publicly driven vehicle, but the EV1 program was considered successful when observed as an engineer.
Musk got in on the ground floor
Elon Musk and Tesla are synonymous in today’s automotive world. Musk was not an original member of the company, joining in 2004 with a $30 million investment into the company, which was more than enough to land him the seat as the chairman of its Board of Directors. This early entry into the company allows Musk to be part of the early launch process and development.
The first Tesla is the Roadster
The car that Eberhard and Tarpenning dreamed of building was an all-electric sports car. This was what brought us to the first Tesla Roadster, which was unveiled in 2006 and entered production in 2008. At that time, electric cars were mostly failed thoughts and fads, not high-powered models that could travel for several miles on a single charge. Most early EVs couldn’t be sold because they weren’t made to meet consumer needs. This brought us some of the early PHEVs, which required gasoline engines to be practical.
The Roadster did more than meet the needs of consumers. The 2008 Tesla Roadster included a driving range of 250 miles on a single full charge of the batteries. Acceleration for this first sports car rivaled many other sports cars of the era, which was an incredible achievement for the team. The Tesla Roadster includes a standard lithium-ion battery structure which was being used in most electronic devices. The Roadster could be recharged using a standard wall outlet, making it a hit right from the start.
This company set its position in the luxury market
The starting price for the first Tesla Roadster was a little more than $100,000, which meant most consumers couldn’t afford to drive this electric sports car. In addition to being an expensive car, the Roadster showed some problems. New owners couldn’t drive the Roadster every day. Recharging took between 24 and 48 hours using a standard home outlet, which means owners needed to have another car to drive on those days when the Roadster would be plugged into the wall outlet.
Leadership at Tesla changed hands
Prior to the 2008 production of the Roadster, Eberhard resigned as CEO while remaining a member of the advisory board. The next CEO was Michael Marks, but Ze’ev Drori took over as the permanent replacement in November of that year. Drori is credited with overseeing the successful launch of the Roadster.
Before the first Roaster could be shipped to Elon Musk, the co-founders both left Tesla entirely. Soon after, Musk took over as CEO, and the company fired 25% of the staff. The departure of the co-founders wasn’t a smooth one, but it left Musk in the wake, which meant Tesla was entirely in his hands.
In 2009 Tesla faced serious financial problems, but when Daimler AG bout a 10% stake in the company for $50 million and a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy gave the company the capital necessary to continue. Soon after, in 2010, the company went public on the NASDAQ and raised $226 million in its initial IPO.
Once some form of financial stability arrived, Tesla prepared to launch the Model S at a more sedan at $76,000. This still places the sedan in the luxury market, but it was only three-quarters of the price of a Roadster. The modern look of this company began in 2001 when the prototype of the Model S was unveiled. This was the first step toward the mainstream consumer market, and when the car went into full production in 2012, it was a huge hit as a new car that hit several desirable marks.
Charging was a challenge still
It wouldn’t make sense to expect consumers to buy a car for $76,000 and then leave it charging for one or two days at a time in the garage. Before Tesla could offer at-home chargers, the company launched its Supercharger network to support the new 2012 Tesla Model S. This network began with only six locations in California, but that network is now more than 1,000 strong around the globe.
Since 2012, Tesla has expanded its lineup to four models, with more on the way. This company has also ventured into the commercial market with new electric semi-trucks that are being used by Pepsi Co.
While that’s a brief history of Tesla, a more interesting thing to ponder is what the future holds for this company. We’ll have to sit back and see what comes next.
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