MITCNC Pioneers in Clean Tech: Tesla Motors from Day One

Presented by Marc Tarpenning, co-Founder of Tesla Motors


Today, Tesla Motors is $30 billion in market cap.  Do you know the road its founders took to get here? Perhaps the most asked question is: why did Tesla entered the electric car market just as GM was pulling the plug on their EV1?

The founders of Tesla were determined to “solve a real problem that we cared about” – the oil problem.  “If you can reduce the dependency on oil, everything will be better off,” said Tesla co-founder, Marc Tarpenning.  Marc was advocating oil independence via a clean tech solution in his presentation to the MIT alumni at the inaugural event of Pioneers in Clean Tech Speaker Series.

“There’s the environmental aspect, political aspect, national security aspect, and there’s the resource depletion aspect. And all of these [problems will be mitigated] if we can get off of oil,” he added.

And how big is this problem? In the US, over 70% of the oil uses are in transportation.  And, within transportation, 51% of use is attributed to passenger cars and light trucks.

Courtesy of Marc Tarpenning

Courtesy of Marc Tarpenning

But building electric cars in the late 90’s to early 2000’s to solve the oil problem was a formidable undertaking.  Just ask GM.

If GM pulled the plug on EV1 could be summarized by “there simply weren’t enough [customers] at any given time to make a viable business proposition for GM to pursue long-term,” as their spokesperson, David Barthmus, said to Washington Post on 3/10/2005, what did Tesla founders see that GM had missed? And, what possibly could compel consumers to switch to electric cars when gasoline was practically free (less than $1.50 per gallon)?

Tesla’s early market research confirmed that electric car buyers didn’t care about saving money.  Clint Eastwood didn’t buy the Prius because it was cheap. George Schultz drove around his electric car most likely because he wanted to make a statement about not supporting the oil economy, a key interest shared among electric car early adopters. As Marc observed, “it’s about doing the right thing, and projecting your values.”

Watch – either for the first time or again – Marc’s recount of Tesla’s road to success, including: technological research and innovations, product vision, fund raising, step by step in building, fixing, testing, and selling the Roadsters; and, of course, Elon Musk coming on-board to steer the company.  Learn from this pioneer how to build a great company from the ground up.

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