During the course of our discussion (presented in three parts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).Tesla Motors Chairman Elon Musk described how he came to be a part of Tesla Motors and how he, as "Product Architect," influenced the development of the Roadster as and what will become the WhiteStar sedan. Based on his description of the events, that sounds like a perfectly reasonable title. Even as told by Martin Eberhard, co-architect doesn't seem inaccurate, although Eberhard might have preferred it to be otherwise. One thing that isn't in doubt is that Musk is not a founder.
Some in the mainstream media over-simplify things by referring to Musk as the creator of the Roadster, and if anything Musk's sin here may be more an error of omission. By not speaking up to clarify his role in the process previously, he has at least appeared to passively take credit for more than he should. If nothing else, as with so many successful entrepreneurs, his self-assurance can certainly come across as arrogance. I don't know the man personally so I can't really comment as to what he is like on a personal level. Aside from the financial aspects his role is probably most analogous to that of Bob Lutz at GM where he makes high level decisions about design direction which are then brought to fruition by the engineers, designers and technicians. Read on after the jump for the rest of my conclusions.



Based on the available information from those involved it doesn't appear that there is a huge discrepancy about the facts of the story of Tesla. The conflict seems to be more about the interpretation and who's point of view you look at it from. The contentious relationship between Eberhard and Musk very likely exacerbated the problems that the development team had. They certainly didn't help. Mistakes were undoubtedly made on all sides. Fortunately, what will hopefully be the biggest ones appear to have been recognized and addressed before a significant number of these cars are on the road.

Tesla Motors certainly wouldn't be where it is today without both of these men and I think each grudgingly acknowledges that. Musk likely would not have pursued such a project at all had Eberhard, Tarpenning and Wright not already started it. The founders could not have moved forward without Musk's money. The passion of all involved made the Roadster a reality.

Musk obviously has a very strong personality and tends to get what he wants. One thing that became clear in the process of putting this story together is that things are by no means black and white. There are always shades of gray and as I've said before when human emotions get involved, things can turn ugly.

Having met several members of the Tesla team when I visited there in January to drive the Roadster, it's clear to me that they have tremendous skills and expertise and they are recruiting more people wtih those qualities. Hopefully, the management team now in place at Tesla has the strength of character to take the knowledge of the engineers and apply the necessary review process to design decisions going forward. That is an absolute must in order to get cars built right, on time and on budget. Certainly the work of the TEAM at Tesla Motors has lit a fire under many other manufacturers to accelerate their own electric car projects.


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