The Making Of Tesla: Invention, Betrayal, And The Birth Of The Roadster

tesla roadster
Tesla Roadster: A ride in a high-performance electric car kind of feels like this.
Tesla Motors was founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in 2003.

Back then, everybody thought that electric cars were golf carts, clown cars, or some environmentally friendly combination of both.

Such was the case with Malcolm Smith, a Bay Area product design manager who would become one of Tesla's first 20 employees.

In summer 2004, he got a call from Eberhard, who was Tesla's CEO long before Elon Musk took over.

"I can't tell you what we're doing," Eberhard said, "but why don't you come check out this car I have."

So Smith showed up at Eberhard's tiny office in Menlo Park, California.

Eberhard and his cofounder, Tarpenning, walked Smith through a sketch of their business plan for a new kind of automaker. They wanted to build a high-performance electric car — one with lower emissions than a Prius and faster acceleration than a Ferrari.

Smith was skeptical. But he was also curious.

From what Eberhard and Tarpenning told him, Tesla would not need to reinvent the wheel to make their electric sports car. They would just need to combine a bunch of existing technologies, something nobody had bothered to do.

"Well," Eberhard told him, "let's go for a ride."

The tzero.
[email protected]/flickr
They got into this tiny yellow car with a quizzical decal on the side: tzero, as in the symbol that mathematicians use to denote the beginning of time within a system.

Eberhard drove them out to Sand Hill Road, the Palo Alto street where Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins, and other massive venture capital firms are headquartered.

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