When we started the Tesla Birth Watch last August, we said "we'll be following this developing story as it develops." Then, in January, we stated "we're obliged to quit carping under this title when one- count it ONE- Roadster enters its owner's climate-controlled garage." Well, it's happened. After several false starts, revised delivery dates and lots of PR tap dancing, the first Tesla is in the hands of a paying customer. (We know Tesla CEO Elon Musk got his Roadster three months ago, and supposedly paid full price for the honor, but we don't see that as a "real" delivery.) According to Tesla Comms Veep Darryl Siry, "Car #3 was delivered to someone (who prefers not to be named) who is not associated with the company on a day to day basis, but whose investment fund put money into Tesla very early." Of course, RF is grumbling, asking for independent verification of Siry's assertion. But I've convinced him it's time to call it a day. The Tesla Birth Watch is officially over. The Tesla Death Watch begins.
Category: Tesla Birth Watch
AutoblogGreen sets 'em up. We knock 'em down. This time, Tesla's cheerleaders are hailing the fact that Larry Sonsini has joined Tesla's Board of Directors. "The presence of Sonsini as a member of the Tesla team is of particular importance moving forward because of his area of expertise. Sonsini is Chairman of Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and a specialist in IPOs and mergers and acquisitions. This is important because Tesla chairman Elon Musk has previously declared that the company will be going public, likely sometime in 2009." So the car company that's allegedly delivered two car to a single paying customer, a Silicon Valley start-up that's lighting cigars with $100 bills, wants some more cash to burn. Some more of someone else's cash to burn. And Sonsini, a man hauled in front of the House for investing in whilst advising companies who backdated options, is just the shark they need to find and devour the whales. You know, as "Tesla Motors drives forward the electric transport revolution and grows to become one of the great car companies of the 21st century." Call me cynical, but Silicon star IPO guy or no, how can anyone trust a lawyer who says his "yardstick of success" is "inner peace?"
AuoblogGreen is at it again, doing whatever it can to support Tesla Motors in this, their decade of need. This time 'round, the tree hugger's favorite automotive website is trying to referee what the Brits call a "slanging match" between ousted Tesla founder Martin Eberhard and Tesla mouthpiece Darryl Siry re: Eberhard's Roadster. As in where the Hell is it? Is Eberhard's Roadster VIN number 2 or the second car produced or both or neither? What did the company promise him? Why did Tesla build VIN 3 and 4 first? Feel free to click over and get the "he said, she said" version. Suffice it to say, I couldn't give a shit. And I have a very hard time understanding why anyone would. The reason I'm blogging this: we still don't know whether or not to end this Birth Watch (and convert to Death Watch). Hard to believe, but Tesla hasn't announced a single "real" customer delivery. We've heard unconfirmed reports that Autoblog founder Jason Calacanis got his (so to speak). Tesla should either promote this fact or tell Calacanis to shut up, while Autobloggreen should focus on what's really going on (or not) at Tesla. IMHO.
I know it's a small point, but it's worth making. Of course, first you gotta party like its 1999! Automotive News [sub] follows the Tesla-friendly PR template, kicking-off their coverage by putting the Silicon start-up's failure to deliver ONE customer car into its improper context. "Close to the crawling 405 freeway and the congested corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards, the Tesla factory store makes a potent statement for gridlocked Angelenos to buy an electric car. Of course, Tesla needs to get its two-seat roadster into serial production to give its dealership something to sell. The company has 600 sold orders and a waiting list for 400 more, but only four production cars have been built. A development glitch with the Magna two-speed transmission has forced a rapid redesign of a one-speed transmission in collaboration with Ricardo UK Ltd." Not so rapid, Mr. Bond. But that's OK. Ish. "By December, Tesla hopes to have 300 cars built. At that time, serial production of 150 cars a month should begin, said Darryl Siry, Tesla vice president of sales, marketing and service." [emphasis added]. Meanwhile, you want to hear something funny, in a "we're not entirely drunk on Tesla Kool-Aid" kind of way? "The sales staff is salaried," Mark Rechtin reports. "Not commissioned."
In a comment on Tesla Birth Watch 43, Tesla flackmeister Daryl Siry addressed some of the questions about Tesla's tranny problems. "The Xtrac transmission never had reliability issues. It has proven rock solid over the years and for that reason we are using an Xtrac box for our interim transmission. The reason we moved away from that design was that we had originally tried to design the gearbox to have clutchless shifting and to accomplish the shifts entirely through motor control but this proved difficult on our end due in part to the time it takes to spin down a heavy rotor that is rotating very quickly." Gotcha. So what precipitated the Magna lawsuit? "We’ve established the fact that the units delivered were not working well so that led to a disagreement between the parties as to what was owed on the contract. These types of disagreements sometimes end up in court." Siry also mentioned that he'll be in Monaco next week, showing production car number four before it's shipped to the states and placed in the loving arms of its more-than-patient owner. This led us to wonder: if car number four will be ready to show off next week, what happened to Tesla Roadsters two and three? Have they been delivered yet? If not, where are they in the pipeline? And how long before they'll be on the streets? Over to you, Daryl…
The EV game is getting nasty. We've heard about Tesla suing Fisker, now Earth2Tech reports that Tesla is being sued by Canadian supplier Magna for breach of contract. The suit alleges that Tesla failed to pay Magna for development work on its troubled transmission system. Transmission woes have long been the Achilles heel of the Tesla Roadster's development. Initial plans called for a two-speed transmission to be supplied by X-Trac, That unit was quickly proven incapable of reliably handling the EV's zero-RPM grunt. Tesla then went to Magna for a replacement two-speed– which proved equally unsuccessful. After attempting an in-house development, Tesla has given-up on the whole multiple gears thing in favor of the golf-cart elegance of a single-speed box. But wait, says Magna, we told you to try a single-speed solution in the first place. Not only did Tesla not listen, but according to the suit filed California, they didn't pay some $5.6m in development fees that Magna claims it was owed under the development contract. Oops. Better collect quickly guys, before you have to squabble for it in, dare I say it, bankruptcy court.
It's hard to keep track of what's going on between Tesla and Fisker. But if you've got the time… First, Tesla mouthpiece Daryl Siry trash talks Fisker's range-extended vehicle, the Karma. After Fisker unveils their EV prototype at the Detroit Auto Show, Siry wonders if his rival's got what it takes to make it so. Next, Tesla's hires Henrik Fisker to design Tesla's Whitestar sedan. And now CNet News reports that Tesla is taking Fisker to court for stealing trade secrets and copying design ideas. Tesla's suit alleges that Fisker accepted the design contract "to gain access to confidential design information and trade secrets, then announced a competing vehicle." Fisker's brief had no comment on the case, other than "the firm's policy [is] not to comment on litigation." Meanwhile, Tesla says they've scrapped Fisker's design for the Whitestar in
a fit of pique favor of… something else. On the positive side, this intra-vaporware legal contretemps will provide Tesla for a convenient excuse when the Whitestar doesn't appear as promised. And for us, the case could expose the reality behind Tesla's endless hype. [Props to JT for the link]
Now that Tesla's started production on their all-electric Roadster (although there's been no indication that they've delivered a single car to single paying customer), the Silicon Valley start-up is expanding their "sales territory" into Europe. The San Jose Business Journal reports that Tesla's started taking orders across the pond as of last week. Tesla's promising to deliver 250 Elise-based, lithium-ion electric sports cars into the Eurozone as of spring 2009. And here's the kicker: Tesla is asking European buyers to pay 160 percent of the U.S. price. That's $156,630 for a car that sells for $98k here in The Land of the Free. If I was an American customer who'd paid the deposit, I'd raise holy Hell if Tesla sent even one car to Europe before satisfying its aspiring American customers.
Those of you familiar with our coverage of Tesla Motors' struggle to produce a lithium-ion powered sports car know that we believe that they believe every word they're saying, regardless of which side of their mouth their words emanate. But you've got to wonder when the erstwhile automaker's VP of Vehicle Integration [via Just-auto, sub] answers the straightforward question "So when does series production start then?" with the above. (And there I was thinking production meant building cars for customers.) And what about this quote? "There is a danger when you ramp that you keep an eye on the big balls," Malcom Powell proclaims. "But it needs all the balls to build the car; it's no good having just 99% of the parts because you can't build it. So we will control our ramp rate carefully. We will start producing the cars this quarter and we will monitor and ramp as quickly as we can, but under control." So, uh, how many cars, then? "It will be some hundreds of cars this calendar year – we should be running at around 600 for the Model Year." You heard it here, folks: Tesla is [not] fully committed to producing 600 '08 Roadsters– whatever that means.
Whatever else you can say about the aspiring electric vehicle (EV) maker– and we've said plenty during the previous thirty-nine installments– you can never accuse Tesla Motors of humility. Before they've delivered a single car to a single paying customer, Tesla is now talking about European sales. Innovation Beat carries the glad tidings. "We have always wanted to distribute in Europe, but with the low dollar we are going to move quicker,” says Darryl Siry, Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Service at Tesla. “The introduction date for the Roadster in Europe will be announced in a couple of months.” Will that be that before or after the White Star sedan EV prototype hits the streets? Meanwhile, Wired reports that Siry was equally vague about the delivery date for the second "production" Tesla Roadster. "The factory turns out 'gliders,' or rolling chassis without drivetrains. The cars will be shipped — Siry said he imagines [Tesla founder Martin] Eberhard's car will be flown — to San Francisco for final assembly. Every Roadster will have its battery pack, transmission and motor installed in San Carlos. 'The whole process before they're passed to sales takes a couple of weeks,' Siry said, and Eberhard will probably get his car in April.'" Probably?