No company is so closely associated with Elon Musk’s name as Tesla. But founded the electric car pioneer two other, barely known entrepreneurs – with a curious history.
Tesla’s story could quickly be told: A trained physicist named Elon Musk becomes a multimillionaire by selling an online payment service, with the money he can finally fulfill the long-cherished dream of a mass-produced electric car, so he names his startup after that great inventor Nikola Tesla, builds an e-sports car for advertising purposes and brings the company a few years later successfully on the stock market – to be a battery-powered sedan finally the fright of established car companies.
Tesla founders first built an e-book reader
Alone: Contrary to popular belief, it has not happened that way. It was not star entrepreneur Elon Musk, but Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, who originally founded the 2003 electric car pioneer. Already in the 90s, the two software developers had dealt with the progress of battery technology in small computers. Together they developed with the Rocket Ebookone of the world’s first electronic readers and sold their company in 2000 for $ 187 million to an American media company. Eberhard and Tarpenning had a lot of good reasons to celebrate.
How the young millionaires came up with the idea for Tesla is contradictory. Legend has it that Martin Eberhard wanted to afford a sports car for part of his fortune. But when the salesmen in the dealership showed him the available vehicles, he was so shocked by the high consumption figures that he thought about his own alternative, packed with entrepreneurial spirit. At least that’s what Eberhard once told us about the Wirtschaftswoche.
Another version reads curiously: Even in the year of the company sale Eberhard was therefore divorced from his wife. “And like every decent American man in this situation, I wanted to console myself with a fast sports car. But I could not bring myself to buy a classic sports car. Because of global warming, our dependence on oil and high consumption, “he told the business paper two years ago.
Whatever ultimately gave the food for thought: Eberhard is considered the author of the vision behind Tesla, of which he after initial skepticism (“He asked me if I’m crazy”) also convinced his former business partner Marc Tarpenning.
Elon Musk gives first money – and boots founder
Her idea now was to build a lightweight luxury sleigh for the elite of the country who saw electric cars as a new status symbol. That cost a lot of money – which is why Eberhard and Tarpenning in the summer of 2003 at venture capitalists in Silicon Valley listened. In the then only 35-year-old Elon Musk, who had previously built the online payment service Paypal, the Tesla founders were finally looking for after several months of searching. Together with his business partner Jeffrey Brian Straubel – falsely also referred to as Tesla founder – Musk invested $ 27 million in the young electric car startup.
Since Musk was the main donor of Tesla, he had a great say from the start. So also in technical questions. A concern of many investors was that thousands of car batteries installed in the car could explode . The body had to be rethought because of the missing engine.
To save time and money, Musk, Eberhard and Tarpenning licensed the Elise platform of the British sports car manufacturer Lotus and solved the problems in lengthy tests. On July 24, 2006 – three years after its founding – Tesla presented the Roadster, the first production vehicle. From the two-seater sold Tesla until the end of production in 2012 almost 2,500 pieces. The foundation stone for the legendary Model S, which should help the electric car pioneer to make a breakthrough, despite interim emergency rescue.
Suddenly Tesla competitor
However, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning did not actively participate in the great commercial success. Both retired in 2008 at Tesla – and not voluntarily. CEO Eberhard in particular is said to have been forced out of the company by Musk. Some say that they are addicted to control, others say that the investor saw himself as the boss. Eberhard sued Musk for defamation and breach of contract. Even today, the Tesla founder is not good to talk to the billionaire: ” I have no contact with Elon Musk, ” said Eberhard 2017 Swiss television.
Incidentally, the occasion for the interview was the new startup of the former Tesla founder. Eberhard founded Inevit in 2016, which manufactures battery modules and powertrains for electric cars. Only one and a half years later, the Chinese-Californian e-car maker SF Motors bought the company. Eberhard has since held the post of chief developer – and wants to Tesla boss Elon Musk now properly compete. How this story ends? The time will tell.