Contrary to popular belief, Elon Musk didn’t start Tesla.
He’s certainly embraced it over the years, investing early and then overseeing growth from niche luxury automaker to mass production, building a solar business, and advancing self-driving technologies. However, the tech titan – and now the richest man in the world – was actually Tesla’s 4th CEO when he took on that role in October 2008.
The makers and founding managers of Tesla, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning sat down with CNBC to share memories of what it was like to build and deliver the first Tesla Roadster vehicles, and how they got Elon Musk on board .
Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard in their early days at Tesla Motors.
Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard
They first met with Musk at a meeting for members of the Mars Society and bonded through their shared love of space exploration. (That was before Musk started his reusable rocket company SpaceX.)
Eberhard was eventually “voted out of the island”, which led to a controversial lawsuit and a possible settlement. But he’s still fixated on Tesla, believes electric vehicles are key to protecting the planet, and remains a Tesla shareholder.
Eberhard is an electrical engineer and inventor at heart and works on technologies to make batteries for electric vehicles more affordable than they are today, without sacrificing safety, performance or quality.
Tarpenning said he still speaks to Musk on occasion and resigned from Tesla just as they were developing their flagship Model S sedan. Looking back, he said he had no regrets. “The whole thing was wonderful from start to finish. It was the worst and the best. And it worked out great.”
Tarpenning now looks after the next generation of environmentally conscious startups and invests in them as a venture partner with Spero Ventures from Pierre Omidyar.
This interview originally took place in late 2019, and excerpts from it were included in CNBC’s “Tesla: Hell of a Ride”.