Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning had founded 1997 together NuvoMedia and with the Company one of the first digital book readers developed, called Rocket eBook, Working for NuvoMedia, the two men had learned a lot about the latest technology in consumer electronics and the vastly improved lithium-ion batteries that provided power for laptops and other portable devices.
The Rocket eBook was ultimately too far ahead of his time and did not become a major commercial success. After all, it was innovative enough to spark the interest of the Gemstar International Group, which sold the programming guide TV Guide and electronic program guide technology, among others. In March 2000 bought Gemstar NuvoMedia for 187 million dollars. Having become rich in this way, the two founders remained in contact with each other after the sale. Both lived in Woodside, one of Silicon Valley's most prosperous cities, chatting occasionally about possible new projects. "We came up with some crazy things," says Tarpenning. "For example, we thought of a modern irrigation system for farms and houses based on smart water sensor systems. But none of this seemed convincing and we wanted something more important. "
Eberhard was an extremely talented engineer with the social conscience of a benefactor. The repeated conflicts of the US in the Middle East made him uneasy, and like many other people with scientific interest he began to look at the problem of climate change as a dangerous reality around the year 2000. So he started looking for alternatives to sprithing cars. He investigated the potential of hydrogen fuel cells, but did not find them convincing. He also did not see much sense in a leasing model, as it was offered by General Motors for his electric car EV1. What aroused his interest, however, were the AC Propulsion's all-electric cars, which he had discovered on the Internet. Approximately 2001 drove Eberhard to Los Angeles to visit the company.
"The building looked like a ghost town and it looked like they were closing down soon," says Eberhard. "I gave them 500.000 dollars so they could build one of their cars with lithium-ion rather than lead-acid batteries for me." Eberhard also tried to persuade AC Propulsion to move from a hobby workshop to a commercial company. When these efforts failed, Eberhard decided to set up his own business to find out what could really be achieved with lithium-ion batteries.
First, he designed a technical model for his electric car in the form of a table. In it, he was able to change various components and examine how they affected the design and performance of the car. He was able to modify the values for weight, number of batteries, tire rolling resistance and air resistance and then calculate how many batteries he needed to drive the different versions. It became clear that the then very popular SUVs were not good candidates, and even something like a van dropped out quickly. Rather, the technology seemed to be appropriate for a lightweight, expensive sports car that drives very fast, is fun, and also promises greater range than most people would expect. These technical specifications complemented considerations by Tarpenning, who had since begun to work on the business model for such a car.
At that time, the Toyota Prius became the fashion in California and was well received by affluent eco-interested people. "We also found that the average income of EV1 owners was 200.000 dollars a year," says Tarpenning. People who used to buy Lexus, BMW or Cadillac saw electric and hybrid cars as a new kind of status symbol. So the two men came up with the idea of developing a product for the luxury car market, which has a volume of 3 billion dollars a year in the US - rich people should have fun with it and at the same time feel good. "People are ready to pay for cool and sexy and an impressive acceleration from 0 to 100," says Tarpenning.
On the 1. July 2003 Eberhard and Tarpenning officially founded their new company. A few months earlier, Eberhard had been to Disneyland with his wife. During the visit he had come up with the name Tesla Motors. He wanted to pay tribute to the inventor and electric motor pioneer Nikola Tesla, he also found the name simply cool. The two founders rented an office with three desks and two small rooms in a run-down 1960-era building at 845 Oak Grove Avenue, Menlo Park. The third table there was occupied a few months later by Ian Wright, an engineer who grew up on a farm in New Zealand.
He was a neighbor of the Tesla founders in Woodside and had them help refine his investor advertising for a network technology start-up. When the hoped-for money failed, Wright joined Tesla. The three men introduced a few confidants to their plans - and earned nothing but ridicule. "In a pub in Woodside, we met a friend who wanted to tell us what we had finally decided on and that it would be an electric car," says Tarpenning. "You can not be serious," I answered.
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