The Story of Tesla and The Electric Car – Brian Kim & Justin Kae
Picture 1989, a year when Elon Musk was only 18 years old, had an interest in electrical cars and the potential use for them. It’s quite a peculiar thing to think about at the time, when electric motors were seen as toys relative to the explosive power of the gas-powered engine. However, this interest for electrical cars would continue and in 2003, after acquiring mild fortunes in Silicon Valley by starting up companies such as Zip2 and X.com, he pursued his other, more other-worldly interests. In July of 2003, Tesla Motors, a company that was made to sell commercially viable electrical cars, became incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, and was funded by Musk himself. By February of 2004, Musk acquired the position of chairman, and later in October of 2010 he became CEO of the company. This story would seem to be a simple story of success if we finished it there, but the story of Tesla Motors is a drastically different one. Here is the story of Tesla Motors and the electric car.
Part I –Tesla’s Beginnings
Saying the early 2000s were a difficult time for testing the viability of an electric car would be an understatement. There was no industry for the electric car at the time; in the 1990s companies experimented with new electric cars straight from labs in California, but after the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate (which would require 2% of vehicles for sale to be ZEVs in 1998, and 10% in 2003) was repealed, the industry plummeted. There wasn’t a market for the cars because what’s the point if they already have gas powered cars with the ZEV mandate repealed? The opportunity of an electrical car being applicable for commercial use seemed grim… until, one small company that resided in California took a shot at it, and its name was AC Propulsion.
At the time, AC Propulsion was able to make constant breakthroughs on electric cars, soon creating their magnum opus – The tzero. The tzero accomplished 2 important things for the electrical car – It was fast (0-60 in 4.9 seconds, unheard of from electric cars at the time), and it had a new battery that was double previous designs in distance (from a range of 60-120 miles to nearly 250). It was truly an innovative electric car.
Musk was already working on SpaceX with dreams of commercializing space travel and colonizing Mars. Unable to further work himself to death, he tried to convince the AC Propulsion team to commercialize the tzero by offering them a mountain of money. However, Musk was introduced to 3 entrepreneurs by AC Propulsions, two of them being Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning (co-founders of Tesla Motors). Using AC Propulsion’s technology for commercial use, they would start a new company called Tesla Motors. Everything was set in motion, but they needed the money to start his company. Musk would fund for their cause, and Tesla Motors would be formed.
Part II – Tesla’s Rise
Tesla Motors is a company with a simple goal – to make electric cars commercially applicable for everybody. It’s clear that electric cars are the future, as one day gas will run out. What Tesla strives to do is to create the future technology now, so to mitigate 2 problems: Our reliance on gas, and the long term effects of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. They had a simple business plan: Step 1 would be producing an expensive, exclusive super car for the super rich, Step 2 would be the production of a mid-priced, moderately produced sedan for the rich which would be funded by Step 1, and Step 3 which would be the production of a cheap, high-volume for everybody.
Tesla had their Step 1 car revealed in 2007 and planned to be in production starting in 2008. The Tesla Roadster. Despite the fact that just 2000 were sold, Tesla had achieved their goals: Show the potential of electric cars, validate themselves as a car manufacturer outside of Detroit and in Silicon Valley of all places, and provide further funding to the company (each Roadster was sold at $110,000). Electric cars had a lot of shortcomings compared to the gas powered car, namely speed and power. However the Roadster was able to fix both problems, very similar to the Tzero. It was fast, being able to achieve 0-60 mph in 4 seconds, and could go 220 miles before needing a charge, effectively having double the battery life compared to most electric cars at the time. It still was inferior to the average gas powered car that could go 300 miles, but regardless it certainly showed the capabilities that the electric car had as evident by the releases of the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and various other ZEVs produced by the other major car companies.
Despite these victories, Tesla was in trouble. Production was far more expensive than anyone could have predicted, and early production was delayed multiple times due to various defects in the early Roadsters. Musk fired Eberhard and hired another CEO who was promptly fired as well. As SpaceX was falling faster than the exploded debris of its rocket prototypes, Musk decided that two failed companies was something that he didn’t want and took over both companies as CEO, working himself to death, desperately trying to save his companies from driving off a cliff. At the time, Musk was becoming the punch-line of a widespread joke in Silicon Valley. He had gone from a promising entrepreneur who had locked himself into a fortune into an overambitious failure who didn’t know what to do with his money. However, Tesla had caught the attention of the right investors and people, and after a grueling 18 months, Tesla was a new company, ready to take on the entire industry of gas-guzzlers.
Part III – Tesla Today
In 2012 Tesla put their Step 2 and current car into production, and named it the Model S. More importantly, while the Roadster existed for testing, the Model S came out as their flagship product, allowing the average person be able to buy one. It came with many improvements over the Roadster, such as being able to go from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds (literally the fastest 4-door sedan in history) and saves massive amounts of battery power with its insanely aerodynamic design (with the industry’s lowest drag coefficient at .24). The perpetual engineering innovations have helped give the Model S the highest NHTSA safety rating of any car ever tested by the US government at 5.4 out of 5 stars. All within price range from as low as about $60,000 or as high as $100,000.
The Model S has amazing features that sound almost futuristic, such as being able to drive itself out of a garage, and being able to charge itself. Additionally, they’re adding new features frequently, even right now. Tesla has thrown the industry standard of releasing new cars every year and holding all new features for the following year out the window and simply releases features as they come out. A Model S bought today will be different than one bought a couple weeks ago. They also automatically download software updates, so owners will wake up to find new features of their car most mornings.
Although the features above may be only for Model S owners, there is no doubt that an electric car has significant advantages over the gas powered car most of us use. One of which is how the car runs. Regular car engines are clunky, complicated and very dangerous when an accident occurs. They are literally powered by explosions. Instead of an engine, an electric car has a simple motor that is attached to the wheel so that it spins. With this, the car has a lot more space in the front. This and the utilization of SpaceX’s advanced rocket technology to create an all-aluminum body making accidents a lot less critical. Electric motors are also cheaper and more convenient; Tesla charging stations are insanely fast and completely paid for by Elon Musk and oil changes aren’t required. Electric cars also don’t release dangerous combustants, meaning cities become cleaner and people become healthier.
What Model S has accomplished, more importantly what Tesla accomplished, was thought to be impossible with the drawbacks of the current industry and broke the limits of what electric cars and even cars in general could do.
Part IV – Tesla Tomorrow
Meet the Model X. It is a new car made by Tesla Motors slated to be sold mid-2016. Much like the Model S, it has had a plethora of improvements over its predecessor and has an emphasis on safety. While being driven, the car can monitor the surroundings and alert the driver of danger, being able to apply brakes when in imminent danger.
It’s a car for the whole family to use. It supports a total of seven seats, and can be optimized to make extra room. The Model X is spacious, with a front and rear trunk. The front trunk is big enough to hold 2 golf bags while the rear trunk can hold substantially more. It can also support heavy weight, being able to tow 5,000 pounds.
From its inception in 2003, Tesla Motors wanted to break the necessity of gas-powered cars by creating electric cars that were feasible for commercial use. With this dream and persistence to change the world, they were able to take an idea that was generally regarded as fruitless, and create a successful and promising industry, solving every major issue like a simple math problem. Hopefully along the years Tesla will lead the way for more electric cars for an even greater audience, and a brighter and cleaner future.