Brands We Admire: Tesla Motors

Not since Henry Ford created the assembly line and the Model T has one man or company so influenced the automotive industry. Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley upstart fueled not by profit but philanthropy, has jumpstarted the auto industry’s movement into electric vehicles. Tesla has achieved what no other car company dared think was possible: proved that electric vehicles could be awesome. Don’t take our word for it. Ask Motor Trend, who named their latest car, the Model S, 2013 Car of the Year.

Prominent industrialist and co-founder, Elon Musk, has been the driving force behind the company, taking risks and pushing forward when most would have thrown in the towel. Inspired by inventors such as Nikola Tesla, inventor of the AC Motor, he created his company to change the world.

Audacious Beginnings

When Musk finished his undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he put his focus on what he considered the most important problems affecting the future of humanity: the Internet, clean energy and space. After dropping out of Stanford, and starting successful ventures such as Zip2 and a little company called PayPal, Musk switched his focus to clean energy.

Musk believed that the best way to influence clean energy was the electric car. The combustible engine had made the world dependent on oil, resulting in climate change and massive transfers of wealth to foreign countries. It was an outdated 19th century technology that remained pervasive, despite outliving its usefulness and harming our future in the process.

Founded in 2003, Tesla Motors faced many challenges, such as recession, zero knowledge of the car industry, lack of manufacturing facilities, mismanagement—everything including the kitchen sink. At the lowest point of the company, Musk scrambled to find financing, influence automotive giants in need of electric technology to invest in the company, and convince investors that a company that was hemorrhaging money was still a good investment. Through sheer will, luck, and ingenuity, Musk kept the company afloat long enough for investments to roll in, Toyota and Daimler to sign on as partners and other opportunities to present themselves, helping the company grow and thrive.

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Disruptive Innovation

Former General Motors VP Bob Lutz, who originally laughed at Tesla and declared it not a real car company, later admitted the upstart pushed them to invest in electric vehicles. Everyone in the auto industry believed that the technology needed to develop a viable electric vehicle was at least ten years off.

The automotive industry as it stood was too invested in the gasoline engine and would never fully embrace an electric vehicle. Tesla, on the other hand, with a more altruistic goal, was able to produce the technology. Then, after proving what is possible, the company made their technology available to competitors and pushed them to up their game.

Tesla, however, hasn’t rested on its laurels. The company is still pushing what is possible with the technology, improving with not just every new version, but also the vehicles already on the road. Cars are going farther and farther with fewer fill-ups along the way. Traveling across the country for free was once an unfathomable idea. Now, it is a reality.

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Underdog Mentality

Founded in Silicon Valley, Tesla operated like a start-up. In fact, since the company couldn’t afford manufacturing facilities when it began, their first vehicle, the Tesla Roadster, was assembled one at time behind their offices in Menlo Park, CA.

When executives from Daimler were interested in Tesla’s technology for their Smart Cars, the company scrambled to impress them by retrofitting one of the vehicles with electric components. Unfortunately, Smart Cars weren’t sold in the US at the time. $20 thousand cash in a bag, a trip to Mexico and five-and-a-half weeks later, Tesla had an electric Smart Car ready for executives to test out.

It was this same spirit, energy, and nimbleness that inspired Toyota to invest in the company, partnering with them on the development of the electric Rav4, and which continues to help the company thrive today.

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Environmentally Conscious

As mentioned before, Tesla wasn’t founded to be a car company. It was started to change the world. Musk saw electricity as a more viable option for cars than gasoline. Electricity can be produced multiple ways, leading to competition, influencing innovation, and freeing the world from its dependence on oil. He knew that the impact of switching from gasoline to electric would be transformative.

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Intelligent Design

No matter what’s under the hood, what sells cars is design and aesthetics. Tesla’s design challenged what people thought when they heard the phrase “electric car”.  Their vehicles are designed to compete with high-end manufacturers such as Porsche, Lotus, BMW, and Mercedes, not just in performance, but also style.

With every car produced by Tesla, the company has pushed what is possible in the design. Musk challenged the designer of the Model S to create a sedan that seated 7. At first it seemed impossible, but when you change the technology, you change what is possible with design.

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As a company, Tesla Motors is one of those things that seems great on paper, but in actual execution wouldn’t be possible. However, Musk and associates didn’t settle for what worked in the past and didn’t just push their competition. Through determination, spunk, and can-do spirit, Tesla forced an entire industry to change and evolve for the betterment of the world. For that, Tesla has earned our admiration.

Written by Ken Hammond on December 18, 2012


Add A Comment
Ken Hammond says:

Barry Pearson, you are absolutely correct. Tesla Motors didn't just come out of thin air, but was built on the work and efforts of many others, like yourself, who pushed for the electric car to be a reality.

Ken Hammond says:

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on our blog, Glendon.

Barry Pearson says:

Mr. Hartwell,
I like a well written article and the subject is of particular interest to me, for so many years had also been in the EV industry. Mr. Musk has presented a fine example of growth and ambition towards the Tesla
products. Please, note the EV generation before Tesla located in Sacramento, California was the largest impetus in American focused
at Electric Vehicles starting about 1988, with a run at manufacturing
EV's in conjunction with major Utility Districts and other large interests
forming a Consortium of selected Corporations that collectively placed
thousands of EV's across this Country through the efforts of many skilled
people that made a great impact towards what EV's have become today.
Our efforts have helped tremendously the paths of what has become
Electric Vehicle's evolution into the future. To Mr. Elon Musk good luck
in an industry that many helped create the stepping stones for the EV of
years to come.

B. Pearson Founder
Pacific Electric Vehicles
Sacramento, CA

Great Job and keep up the good work, we're watching. Merry Christmas to all the employees and everyone involved with this company, I do hope you go far.
sincerely, G.R.Hartwell

Written by
Ken Hammond