A brief history of Tesla

0/34 Replay Gallery More Galleries

A brief history of Tesla

When Tesla went public in 2010, it became the first American car company to do so since Ford Motor Company in 1956. Since then, Tesla’s stock has soared as the company keeps rolling out new features and models while simultaneously capturing the imagination of a curious public. What follows is a brief history of Tesla starting at its founding not by Elon Musk, but Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in July 2003. (This has been updated to tell Tesla’s story up through June 2016.)



Tesla was founded not by Elon Musk, but rather by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in July 2003. The two bootstrapped the fledgling auto company until Elon Musk led the company’s $7.5 million Series A financing round in February 2004, when Musk became the company’s Chairman of the Board.


Elon Musk to the rescue with more cash

In February 2005, Elon Musk again led another round of financing to inject $13 million more into the company during the development of the yet-announced Tesla Roadster. Then, in 2007, the company raised a $40 million Series C co-led by Musk and Technology Partners.


A deal with Lotus Cars

On July 11, 2005 Tesla signed a production contract for Lotus to manufacture complete cars minus the powertrain for what would become the Tesla Roadster.


The Roadster is unveiled

On July 19th, 2006 Tesla’s first production vehicle was unveiled by CEO Martin Eberhard and the company’s chairman Elon Musk at an invite-only event at the Santa Monica airport. Tesla is now a officially a car company.


Tesla changes leadership

By the end of 2007, Tesla is in a tough spot. The company is burning through money and in need of new leadership. In December 2007, Ze’ev Drori, a successful high-tech entrepreneur and proven chief executive, became CEO and President. Under Drori’s leadership, 10% of the staff was laid off but the company became profitable. Yet Drori wouldn’t last a year at Tesla.


The Elon Musk era begins

In October 2008, Musk succeeded Drori as CEO. Drori became Vice Chairman, but then left the company in December. By this time Musk had dumped $70 million of his own money into Tesla.


The Roadster

Tesla sold 2,250 Roadster models between 2008 and 2012. It wasn’t easy. The company struggled to deliver orders on time while attempting to reassure potential buyers about its capability. The British car show “Top Gear” didn’t help — they rail the car, leading to a libel battle between Top Gear and Tesla. Top Gear wins.


Introducing the Model S

On June 30th, 2008, Tesla unveiled the Model S — the first car they’d really come to be known for. With a starting price of $50,000 and seating for seven, the Model S was supposed to be Tesla’s more “affordable” family sedan.


Tesla and Daimler AG

On May 19, 2009, Tesla enters into a strategic partnership with Daimler AG, which acquired a 10% equity stake in Tesla for a reported $50 million. Today, 10% of Tesla is worth billions.


Tesla takes a loan from the US Government

In June 2009 Tesla took a $465 million loan from the United States Department of Energy. The company paid off the loan in May 2013, some nine years early.


Going public

On June 29, 2010, Tesla raised $226 million in its initial public offering becoming the first America car company to go public since Ford in 1956.


We drive Elon Musk's personal Roadster

We were given a special treat in September 2011 when we were handed the keys to Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster sport during a tour of Tesla’s California facility.


The Model X SUV

Tesla unveiled its first SUV and AWD vehicle on February 9, 2012, the Model X, with delivery (originally) expected for late 2013. The stunning gullwing-type doors featured in the concept will be included in the production vehicle.


Tesla's secret sauce

In 2012 Tesla quietly began building a small network of electric car charging stations throughout California.  When the Superchargers were announced in 2012, there were six stations operational. There are now over 200 worldwide, and routes that allow Model S drivers to drive from coast to coast in the US.


The Fires

By 2013, Tesla was cruising along nicely, but then they hit their first big speed bump. Three Model S sedans caught fire following accidents. No one was seriously injured and the company quickly addressed the issues and stated their cars are safe — but not before its stock and public perception took a hit. Following the third vehicle fire, Tesla’s stock price dropped more than 20%.


Tesla in 2014

Following a tough 2013, Tesla found its groove in 2014. The stock price is soaring, up 47% from the low following the Model S fires. The company delivered its 28,500 Model S in July 2014 and are now charging forward with the introduction of new models.


The Model 3

In the middle of 2014, Tesla announced that it would be using everything it’s learned about making cars so far to introduce a significantly more affordable model. Called the Model 3, it’s estimated starting price will be under $35,000. Alas, no solid release date is given at the time of announcement.


Elon Promises "the D"

Elon Musk tweets that he will “unveil the D”, garnering plenty of chuckles. He later claims the innuendo (“the D” tends to have a specific meaning on the Internet) was totally unintentional.


The "D" Stands For…

In Tesla’s case, the “D” stands for “Dual Motor”. Three new Model S are introduced in January of 2015: the Model S 60D, 85D, and highest-end P85D. Visually, they’re almost identical to the existing Model S; internally, though, they’re overcharged beasts. That second motor helps the $110,000 Model S P85D go 0-60 in 3.2 seconds (a time they’ll only improve later on)


Elon Musk Compares Building AI to "Summoning Demons"

In something that would later become a trend for Musk, he shares his fear of unregulated artificial intelligence work. “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” he says. “If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”


The Tesla Model X SUV Gets Delayed… Repeatedly

Initially intended to go into production by the end of 2013, Tesla’s first SUV has seen its fair share of delays. They pushed the date back to 2014 to focus on Model S deliveries, then into 2015 so the company could put more effort into its debut in China. As of July 2015, it has yet to ship.


Tesla P85D Gets Faster

The P85D was ridiculously fast from Day 1, but Tesla made it even faster after release — and they did so via an over-the-air software update, no less. The free update tunes the car’s wonderfully named “Insane” mode to get its 0-60 time from 3.2 seconds to 3.1 seconds.


Troubles In China

After weaker than expected sales in China, Tesla lays off hundreds in the country and begins replacing some of its regional executive team.

[Photo via Philip Lai on Flickr]


Tesla Wins In New Jersey

One of Tesla’s biggest challenges: over half of the United States do not allow car makers to sell cars directly, instead requiring them to sell through third-party dealerships. New Jersey began enforcing this law in March 2014. Tesla fought this law publicly, and it was overturned by NJ Governor Chris Christie almost exactly one year later.

[Photo via Marc Nozell On Flickr]


Elon Musk Pledges To End "Range Anxiety"

“Range Anxiety”, or the idea that you might drive too far away from a sufficiently powerful charger to make it home, is a fear that many would-be electric vehicle buyers might have. Tesla addresses this with an update that constantly calculates your distance from a super charger. If there’s any chance you might get stranded, the car warns you… twice.


The Model X Gets Spotted On The Road

Slowly but surely, the Model X gets closer to release. They start appearing, albeit slightly disguised, on the highways near Tesla HQ in March of 2015.


Elon Musk unveils ‘Tesla Energy’

Branching beyond cars for the first time, Tesla unveils a new business arm in April 2014 that focuses on ending our dependence on grid power and switching instead to solar energy. The first Tesla Energy product is ‘Powerwall Home Battery’, a massive battery for storing solar energy at home.


Tesla acquires Michigan-based Riviera Tool

This purchase marks Tesla’s first presence in Michigan — a state where the auto maker is not allowed to sell its vehicles directly. The tool company is renamed “Tesla Tool And Die”


FTC Rallies Behind Tesla

In May of 2015, the FTC throws its weight behind Tesla’s fight to sell directly to consumers. “A fundamental principle of competition is that consumers – not regulation – should determine what they buy and how they buy it,” writes the FCC.

[Photo via John Taylor on Flickr]


The Model S P85D Gets EVEN FASTER.

In a crazy move, Tesla manages to make the P85D even faster in July of 2015. The car’s  “Insane” mode becomes “Ludicrous” mode, shaving the 0-60 speed from 3.1 seconds to 2.8 seconds.

Alas, unlike the first improvement, the upgrade isn’t free this time. Requiring new hardware that can handle higher voltages without melting, the upgrade costs $5,000 for existing P85D owners.

With this upgrade, the P85D becomes one of the Top 20 fastest accelerating production cars in the world.

“It’s like having your own private roller coaster,” says Elon whilst announcing the enhancement.


The Return Of The Roadster

In something of a surprise move, Tesla announces that they will be reviving the Roadster line “in 4 years”. The Roadster was the first car the company ever made, but they ended its production in 2012 to focus on the more affordable Model S.

[Photo via Raneko on Flickr]


First Model X delivered

In September of 2015, the first pre-ordered Model X’s are delivered, with the first handful of owners accepting the keys to their new rides directly from Elon on stage. It’ll take a while before most of the pre-orders are accounted for, though; by April 2016, new pre-orders are still backordered for months.


Model 3 Unveiled And Detailed

Roughly 2 years after first discussing it, Tesla finally pulled back the curtain on their more affordable model, the Model 3, on March 31st of 2016.

The base model will start at $35,000, do 0-60 in under 6 seconds, and is scheduled to start shipping at the end of 2017. Like the Model S and X, it has a big ol’ tablet in the center of the dash — but it’s now rotated to be widescreen, rather than portrait.

Pre-orders opened the night of the announcement. Before the announcement had even started, 110,000 cars had been pre-ordered. By the end of the night, they were at 150,000. This is 3x more cars than Tesla shipped in all of 2015.


Tesla plans to acquire SolarCity

The great Elon Musk empire is uniting. Yes, Elon Musk’s Tesla offers to acquire Elon Musk’s solar panel installation company SolarCity for $2.8 billion. Together the companies could allow you to outfit your home with solar panels that power a giant battery for everything inside, as well as your electric car.

If the deal goes through, it would see SolarCity stock exchanged for Tesla stock. The deal would pay a premium of 21 percent to 30 percent on top of SolarCity’s value of $2.14 billion, so Tesla would be buying SolarCity for between $2.59 billion and $2.78 billion worth of its stock.