An anonymous light-industrial unit in San Carlos, California, in early 2007. TG pays a visit to Tesla. It’s still a long way from delivering its first car to a customer – though such is the buzz that many people had already ordered them, sight unseen. Chief technical officer JB Straubel (still there now) had several persuasive arguments in favour of electric cars. The first was to put you in a prototype of the Roadster, potter off to the local freeway on-ramp, then simply mash the right pedal. That’s a transformative experience I still remember.
Even more vivid is my memory of the two-hour conversation I had with Straubel. Long experience has taught me to be very wary of the claims of new car-company startups, let alone startups talking about new powertrains. But he was just so darned articulate, thoughtful, convincing.
For a start, the company had people on board who’d cracked open several existing paradigms, not least Elon Musk (already a billionaire through founding PayPal, and his SpaceX Corp was already launching rockets). All the founders and early leaders were performance-car nuts, incidentally. Tesla also had the nous to employ many experienced car-industry body, chassis and interior engineers. They weren’t just a bunch of Silicon Valley dreamers.
Straubel laid out Tesla’s plan. It involved using simple, obtainable lithium-ion cells and straightforward induction motors, and managing both of them