Between the Lines: Former Tesla CEO Martin Eberhard's Email to Roadster Customers

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

This website has been skeptical of Tesla Motors’ claims for their lithium-ion-powered Roadster since day one. While some readers think we’ve “had it in” for the California-based car company, rest assured TTAC is an equal opportunity muckraker. Anyway, yesterday, when Martin Eberhard revealed that he’d relinquished Tesla's top job, we held fire to avoid accusations of smug satisfaction. But Eberhard’s email to Tesla customers piqued our interest. As Tesla has yet to deliver a single customer car, by thy words thy shall be known.

Eberhard begins his e-sayonara by expressing his personal pleasure at helming Tesla for the last four years. He then outlines the management shuffle: “This week I move from the CEO position to become President of Technology, and I remain on Tesla’s board of directors. In my new job, I will focus on the final details of the Roadster and on advancing Tesla’s leadership in our core technology. I will also be able to spend more time with you, our customers.”

Ah, those pesky “final details.” Presumably the new Technology Prez (a title missing from any other automaker’s personnel files) will be focusing on the electro-mechanical minutiae that have prevented Tesla from meeting its first two deadlines for customer deliveries. Eberhard’s claim that he’ll be advancing his company’s “leadership in our core technology” is classic Tesla: asserting technological leadership— not competence, leadership— without showing the goods.

Meanwhile, Eberhard’s promise to “spend more time” with his customers is more than slightly perplexing. Spend more time with them doing what? There are no demo cars. Again, given the delays, I’m thinking Martin’s about to become Tesla’s Hand-Holder General.

Next up: Eberhard's explanation for why he was shunted from the top slot. “We at Tesla need leadership with that same kind of passion and talent for operations – passion that will secure Tesla’s future as the next major automobile company. I initiated an intense CEO search some time ago, but the board and I have yet to find the right person to fill this role – even as Tesla continues to grow and its operational needs become paramount.”

Eberhard is saying two things here. First, his move was planned a long time ago, and, therefore, does not represent any kind of management crisis at Tesla. Second, modestly enough, Tesla can’t find anyone with his passion and talent to run “operations.” Judge for yourself, but this journalist does not find either of these claims remotely plausible.

Common sense suggests that the timing of the transition, hot on the heels of yet another delay in Roadster deliveries, indicates that someone with money lost faith in Eberhard’s ability to git ‘er done. Hubris aside, there are plenty of current and ex-auto industry execs who could handle Tesla’s operational needs. And the appointment of an interim CEO after “some time” tells us that either the choice was actually made in haste, or there is ongoing conflict in the boardroom.

Now, about those deliveries…

“We are still planning to start production of the Roadster by the end of next month and deliver the first cars to customers this fall. We have a good chance of meeting this goal, but to be fully transparent, I want you to know that while it is within our reach, it is not yet fully within our grasp.”

That is one major piece of sophistry, or, if you prefer, a textbook example of weasel words. Eberhard’s insistence on seasonal deadlines– rather than dates– has got to worry those [erstwhile] customers who’ve signed checks to Tesla. By the same token, a “good chance” is not a statistically relevant term. But both qualifiers pale next to the obfuscatory majesty of Eberhard’s metaphor.

If something’s within your reach but evades your gasp, uh, what does that mean? You could get it to in theory but you can’t in practice? How very reassuring. The addition of the words “yet” and “fully” is what takes this Zen koan to the next level. Jeff, Murray, Anthony and Greg should enjoy so much wiggle room.

Eberhard eventually gets down to brass tacks, identifying Roadster crash testing and durability as the remaining stumbling blocks. Oh, about that crash testing, “there is always the chance that something unpredictable occurs… in which case we would incur a delay to address the issues.” And regarding reliability, “The results of this testing are critical to the schedule.” But if there are testing-related delays, “I will let you know.”

Even if everything goes according to plan, Eberhard says Tesla’s looking to produce one– count it one– car per week; you know, until they get the bugs out.

Eberhard concludes by promising that “the end is in sight.” But not within view.

[Link to email via Jalopnik here .]

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Geotpf Geotpf on Aug 16, 2007

    I think the Tesla roasters will eventually appear, and they will be at least as reliabile as any as any other exotic sportcar (which is a pretty low bar), and quite possibly as reliabile as your typical Toyota (electric cars have way fewer moving parts for things to go wrong in). Basically, the only real problem with the delays is the fact that these vehicles have already been sold. If there were no pre-sales, and the ship date slipped a year, no big whoop. However, I think the people who have already put money down realize the risks involved here. Also, the large number of celebrities and other notable people who are amoungst the pre-orders (both founders of Google, the Governator, Matt Damon, George Clooney, from the Black Eyed Peas, and Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are just a few) pretty much means that the cars will be delevered eventually.

  • Fallout11 Fallout11 on Aug 20, 2007

    Celebrities are notoriously poor judges of character, venture operations, and finance in general. Almost all have been fleeced at one time or another, many to the tune of millions. The sheer number of destitute has-beens within the entertainment industry is a glaring reminder of this fact.

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