Tesla Motors was formed to develop an electric sports car. Eberhard was Tesla’s chief executive officer (CEO) and Tarpenning its chief financial officer (CFO). Funding for the company was obtained from a variety of sources, most notably PayPal cofounder Elon Musk, who contributed more than $30 million to the new venture and served as chairman of the company, beginning in 2004.
In 2008 Tesla Motors released its first car, the completely electric Roadster. In company tests, it achieved 245 miles (394 km) on a single charge, a range unprecedented for a production electric car. Additional tests showed that its performance was comparable to that of many gasoline-powered sports cars: the Roadster could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles (96 km) per hour in less than four seconds and could reach a top speed of 125 miles (200 km) per hour. The lightweight car body was made of carbon fibre. The Roadster produced no tailpipe emissions, as it did not use an internal-combustion engine. Tesla Motors found that the car attained efficiency ratings that were equivalent to a gasoline mileage of 135 miles per gallon (57 km per litre). The vehicle’s electric motor was powered by lithium-ion cells—often used in laptop-computer batteries—that could be recharged from a standard electrical outlet. Despite a federal tax credit of $7,500 for purchasing an electric vehicle, the Roadster’s cost of $109,000 made it a luxury item.
In late 2007 Eberhard resigned as CEO and president of technology and joined the advisory board of the company. It was announced in 2008 that he had left the company, though he remained a shareholder. Tarpenning, who was vice president of electrical engineering, supervising the development of electronic and software systems for the Roadster, also left the company in 2008. Musk took over as CEO. In 2010 Tesla’s initial public offering raised some $226 million.
Tesla under Elon Musk: Model S, Model 3, and Model Y
In 2012 Tesla stopped production of the Roadster to concentrate on its new Model S sedan, which was acclaimed by automotive critics for its performance and design. It came with three different battery options, which gave estimated ranges of 235 or 300 miles (379 or 483 km). The battery option with the highest performance gave an acceleration of 0 to 60 miles (96 km) per hour in slightly more than four seconds and a top speed of 130 miles (209 km) per hour. Unlike the Roadster, which carried its battery system at the back of the car, the Model S had its underneath the floor, which gave extra storage space in back and improved handling because of its low centre of gravity; this battery placement was used on later Tesla models. The Tesla Autopilot, a form of semiautonomous driving, was made available in 2014 on the Model S (and later on other models).
Beginning in 2012, Tesla built stations called Superchargers in the United States and Europe designed for charging batteries quickly and at no extra cost to Tesla owners. Later versions of those stations also had the capability of complete replacement of the Model S battery pack.
Tesla released the Model X, a “crossover” vehicle (i.e., a vehicle with features of a sport-utility vehicle but built on a car chassis), in 2015. The Model X had a maximum battery range of about 340 miles (547 km) and seating for up to seven.
Tesla began building large factories it called Gigafactories to produce batteries and vehicles. The first such factory opened in 2016 outside Reno, Nevada. Gigafactories were opened in Buffalo, New York, and Shanghai, China, and more Gigafactories were planned.
Because of demand for a more inexpensive vehicle, the Model 3, a four-door sedan with a range of up to 353 miles (568 km) and a price of $35,000, began production in 2017. The car had an all-glass roof, and most controls were on a 15-inch (38-cm) central touchscreen. The Model 3 became Tesla’s best-selling model and the best-selling electric car of all time, surpassing the Nissan Leaf.
The company also branched out into solar energy products. A line of batteries to store electric power from solar energy for use in homes and businesses was unveiled in 2015. Tesla bought the solar panel company SolarCity in 2016 and offered rooftop solar panels, a solar roof with energy-generating tiles, and a large battery called the Powerwall to store the power generated for use when the sun was not shining or as a backup in case of a power outage. In 2017 the company changed its name to Tesla, Inc., to reflect that it no longer sold just cars.
The following year Musk made a series of tweets about taking Tesla private, claiming that he had secured funding. In September 2018 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged him with securities fraud, alleging that his tweets were “false and misleading.” Later that month Tesla’s board rejected a proposed settlement from the SEC, reportedly after Musk threatened to resign. However, news of the rejected deal sent Tesla’s stock plummeting, and the board quickly accepted a less generous settlement, the terms of which included Musk stepping down as chairman for at least three years and that his tweets were to be pre-approved by Tesla’s lawyers. However, he was allowed to remain as CEO. In addition, both Tesla and Musk were fined $20 million.
Tesla released another crossover, the Model Y, in 2020. The Model Y was smaller and less expensive than the Model X and shared many of the same parts with the Model 3. Sales of the Model Y quickly became comparable to that of the Model 3, and Musk expressed confidence that it would become Tesla’s best-selling model. Tesla announced several models to be released early in the 2020s, including a second version of the Roadster, a semi-trailer truck, and a pickup truck, the Cybertruck, which had a boxy angular design that excited controversy when it was first unveiled.