Tesla Co-Founder Marc Tarpenning Shares Tesla’s Story

JUN 29 2017 BY EVANNEX 7


Tesla Roadster


As any super-hero fan knows, a great origin story is worthy of retelling from time to time in slightly different versions. This new video isn’t the first time Marc Tarpenning has recounted the birth of Tesla (he and his erstwhile partner Martin Eberhard delivered a fascinating account in a speech at Stanford last October), but this is as concise and engaging a version as we’ve seen yet.


Tesla co-founder, Marc Tarpenning, and the Tesla Roadster (Images: @mtarpenning; Motor Trend)

In fact, Mr. Tarpenning has perfected his delivery of the saga over the years. In this recent speech from the 2017 Product Leader Summit, he delivers a virtuoso performance: clear, succinct and entertaining, with visual aids (including some classic vintage photos) to help the narrative along. This one is well worth watching all the way through, even if you’re already familiar with the story.

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

Above: Tarpenning tells the tale of how Tesla got started (Youtube: Omidyar Network)

Tarpenning and Eberhard didn’t set out to build electric cars per se, but rather to find the most efficient way to reduce oil consumption. They systematically considered every possible alternative fuel, from natural gas to biofuel to hydrogen. They also thought carefully about their target customers.

Eberhard’s famous epiphany when he saw Toyota Prius hybrids parked next to Porsches in affluent Los Angeles neighborhoods led to the insight that they should build a performance vehicle for wealthy car buffs, not an energy-saving “dorkmobile” for impoverished greenies, as previous would-be EV-builders had done (here Tarpenning shows us some highly entertaining contemporary examples).


Tarpenning and Eberhard with the Tesla Roadster (Image: Astrum People)

The Silicon Valley sage takes us through the process of raising money for the new enterprise (bringing Elon Musk on board along the way), and the long, complex process of designing and testing the Roadster (illustrated with some seldom-seen pix from Tesla’s  legendary early production facilities).

Problems with the transmission led to long delays, and almost sabotaged the whole undertaking, but the entrepreneurial engineers were saved in the nick of time by Moore’s Law. Fortunately, most of the early customers were true believers, and they were “incredibly enthusiastic.” Even though Tesla was a year and a half late delivering the car, only a couple cancelled their reservations.


First-Generation Tesla Roadster

Shortly after the Roadster came into its own, and Tesla began shifting its focus to Model S, Tarpenning left the company. As he told me in a 2014 interview, he left on good terms – the reason that he moved on was that his main interest was in starting new companies, and having completed a successful IPO, Tesla was passing out of the startup phase.


Pre-production Tesla Model S being assembled in early 2012

Mr. Tarpenning concludes his presentation with a few words about disrupting old industries (these days, “old” might mean 10 years old) for fun and profit. It’s a timely topic, now that people are beginning to take seriously the possibility – unthinkable even a few years ago – that the auto industry will face a wave of disruption analogous to those that have swept through other industries (video rental, cameras, travel agents, books, music, movies, etc, etc).

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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7 Comments on "Tesla Co-Founder Marc Tarpenning Shares Tesla’s Story"

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I guess Tesla’s Route to Stardom and Success seems to be the only route.

The Fantastic BMW i3/REX currently the BEST EV on the market aside from the Tesla model S/X, is Completely Ignored by the BMW owner base.

I’d estimate that 99.9999% of BMW owners have NEVER taken it for a test drive. Leaving BMW’s innovation effort a near failure, even if they sell 100,000 this year.

Whereas Tesla has a reservation list of 400,000.

It could be the typical US buyer of BMW is a “status” buyer, and the BMW i3 needs an “innovator” buyer. Therefore, BMW is screwed in the US market. at least in the EV advanced vehicle segment.

You got that right..

BMW is for “show off” in the US and i3 is kind of dorky. It is “cool” to show off among techies or EV fans, but for overall general public, it is still too “dorky”.

“It could be the typical US buyer of BMW is a ‘status’ buyer, and the BMW i3 needs an ‘innovator’ buyer. Therefore, BMW is screwed in the US market.”

I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head, there. BMW’s customers, at least their American customers, are in general not the sort of person who thinks about buying an EV; and in general, the sort of person who wants to buy an EV isn’t thinking about BMW.

Now please be gentle, don’t jump all over me pointing out that there are thousands of exceptions. The BMW i3 sold 7625 units last year, according to InsideEVs’ Monthly Plug-in Sales Scorecard. But that’s less than 1/4 as many Model S’s as were sold that same year.

Some people complain about the “Spartan” interior of the Model S, and for those people, one would think the BMW i3 would be a better buy. So why doesn’t the car sell better? Answer above.

7625 / 350 BMW Dealerships in the USA = 21.7 i3/i8 sold per dealership per year.

That’s Pathetically Bad.
And most of those are probably CA/OR/WA state dealerships.
With other dealerships selling 3-4 a year.

BMW buyers are NOT supporting the company effort to sell green, better, quieter, and faster Cars/EV’s.

Ever been to a BMW dealership (or indeed any ICE dealership) and asked about their i3 EV? They might have one on the floor, but they certainly don’t seem interested in it. Instead they most likely try to steer you to the ME,MY, etc. I don’t think it is just buyers who don’t want them. And they (dealerships) don’t even realise why Tesla is such a threat to their business!

For me BMW epitomises ‘Big Auto’s’ attitude to EVs; ‘We can make them if we want and here’s 1 1/2 examples to prove it but we don’t really think it is ‘our thing’ and so we aren’t really going to commit, thanks all the same”.

Pah! Stop pretending you give a @&<# then!… or get on with it and give us some *real* EVs!