Tesla Motors: Shaping the future of electric cars

Tesla Model S electric car at a Supercharger charging station

If you’re a regular on the Internet, you will no doubt have seen the name “Tesla Motors” spring up all over the place. The hype was at its peak during March of this year when Tesla unveiled the prototype for their soon-to-be released Tesla Model 3. Let’s take a look at how Tesla Motors became the trend leader in the ever-expanding world of electric cars and beyond.

Tesla Motors is a company dedicated to the continual evolvement of electric cars for use in the mass market. It all started back in 2003 when Martin Eberhard and Marc Tappening, two electrical engineers, were trying to commercialize the T-Zero prototype, an electric sports car that had been in development since 1996 by a company called AC Propulsion. One of the revolutionary things about the T-Zero was its ability to jump from 0-60 miles per hour in a mere 4 seconds. Eberhard had invested in AC Propulsion with the hopes of getting his hands on a copy of the prototype. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

So with no experience in the making of any type of cars Eberhard and Tappening launched Tesla Motors in July 2003. The name was inspired by electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who is famous for his contributions to the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system we still use today.

Eberhard and Tappening’s plan was to put together their own two-seater electric sports car that runs on lithium-ion batteries and an AC inductor motor. The AC motor was modelled on Nikola Tesla’s original 1882 design. The duo did some ground breaking work but needed constant funding. In 2004 Elon Musk (co-founder of PayPal, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity) joined Tesla Motors as chairman of the board of directors. He has led four rounds of financing for Tesla Motors which has seen over US$105 million being raised for the company simply through private investing.

Initial progress on the project was slow but the company kept the hype going with regular prototype unveilings. In 2008 the Tesla Roadster was finally launched after being announced to the public in 2006. It was the first highway-capable all-electric sports car (using lithium-ion batteries) in serial production for sale in the United States. It was also the first electric car to achieve a range of 245 miles (approximately 394 kilometres) on a single charge. To draw a comparison, General Motors’ discontinued EV-1 could only go 100 miles (around 160 kilometres) on one charge.
Back then Tesla’s plan was to sell Roadsters to so-called “rich people” so that it can get a foothold in the mass market. After it has gained traction, the ultimate aim was to create an electric car that was affordable for anyone to buy and use realistically. This strategy is often used by tech industries and the likes of Silicon Valley (think flat screen TV’s, cellphones, computers) where they start with an expensive high end product and once established adapt it to suit the mass market. This was Elon Musk’s vision for Tesla, an affordable all-electric car for everyone to use.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Tesla Motors. When the global financial crisis hit in 2008 the company faced some serious financial troubles. They almost couldn’t raise the US$100 million it needed to not only continue production of the Roadster but also to start production of its newest electric car, the Model S. Musk came to the rescue and put US$70 million of his own money into the company. He also became CEO of Tesla Motors in 2008, and was heavily involved the initial design of the Roadster models.

By 2009 the company had produced 500 Tesla Roadsters. Work continued on a new model and in 2010 the Tesla Roadster Sport was put into production. The Sport was 0.2 seconds faster than the original Tesla Roadster. Between 2008 and 2012 the company sold 2,250 Roadsters globally.

Tesla Roadster

At the same time (2009) Tesla unveiled their new project called the Model S. It was to be the world’s first premium electric sedan. It had the comfort of a family car and the speed of a sports car. The Model S, released in 2012, is what truly put Tesla Motors on the map as it was a more affordable version of their Roadster. The Roadster models were discontinued by the end of 2012 to make way for the new luxury sedan. The Model S went on to become the world’s best-selling all-electric car in December 2015 with a staggering 100,000 cars sold globally, three years after being put to production.

In February 2012 Tesla revealed its first SUV and AWD crossover vehicle, the Model X. This car was revolutionary since SUVs and the like have long been associated with being particularly environmentally-unfriendly. But having an all-electric version throws that idea out the window. The Model X was proven to be twice as safe as the closest SUV of its kind when it came to frontal and side impact crashes. At the keynote Musk wowed the crowd with the car’s futuristic falcon wing doors (think Back to the Future’s DeLorean). The Model X has a range of 257 miles (around 413 kilometres) and goes from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds. It comes in different models with different seat configurations, and a boot big enough for extra gear. With the Model X Tesla has once again proved that their brand of all-electric cars can be functional and adaptable without having to compromise on style or performance. The Model X was ready for sale by September 2015.

Tesla Model X Falcon Wing Doors

In 2013 the company also began building a network of electric car charging stations around California in the USA. They are called Superchargers and work much the same as conventional gas stations, instead of gas you recharge. Tesla offers this service for free to Tesla drivers. The Supercharger does indeed charge the car battery very fast – less than an hour to full charge. The Supercharger stations were rolled out all over America and later other countries too. Tesla is currently working on new Superchargers to speed up the charging time even more. Of note, in 2013 the company showed profits for the first time in its history.

By 2016 Tesla Motors finally unveiled their newest and most affordable car to date, the much anticipated Model 3. This car would finally be for the masses. The Model 3 is an all-electric car designed with comfort, agility and safety in mind. A true everyman’s car. It is said to start retailing at US$35,000 in America. Specs include a range of 215 miles per charge (346 kilometres) with acceleration from 0-60 mph in under 6 seconds, and space for 5 adults. As with the previous models, The Model 3 comes with the highest safety ratings making it the safest all-electric car out there. The unveiling had a hugely positive response from the public and preorders are said to have reached 400,000 already. The biggest test for Tesla here would be to see if they can deliver all these cars as promised by the end of 2017.

Despite reservations about on-time delivery, Tesla has truly made history with the Model 3. For the first time there is a completely sustainable transport option for the masses, and one that looks good and drives like a super car to boot. If the initial public response is anything to go by then Tesla has definitely hit the hammer on the nail with the Model 3. There are of course various option to choose from within the Model 3 range, and Tesla are already working on newer models to add to its stable.

Cars aside, in June 2015 Tesla has also introduced a new business arm called Tesla Energy. The aim is to end our dependence on grid power and make it easier to switch to solar power. The first product from this new department is the PowerWall (Tesla Home Battery) which allows home owners to store solar power. It is a wall mounted battery system that uses rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that can store energy generated from solar panels. This clean energy can be used when the main grid are stressed or completely shut down, the PowerWall automatically switches your home over to the backup. The true innovation here is the fact that the battery system can store the energy for later consumption. As with all of Tesla’s inventions, the PowerWall is a neat and sleek-looking product that would fit even in the most stylish of houses. There are also plans for a PowerPack model aimed at big industries.

It goes without saying that Tesla Motors has been leaving revolutionary footprints in the motoring industry across the world, and also leading the way to cleaner energy resources. By their own account, “Tesla is not just an automotive company, it’s an energy innovation company.” With it becoming more and more crucial to take environmental issues seriously, it is great to see a strong, large company emerge that is making visible strides towards making a difference in the wellbeing of the planet.