Electric Car Soap Opera: Tesla's Founder Martin Eberhard Sues Tesla's CEO Elon Musk
Photos: Tesla Motors, Space X
Oh Boy! This Can't End Well...
Tesla Motors founder Martin Eberhard filed a 22 page suit against Tesla's current CEO, Elon Musk, accuses him of "taking control of the company, orchestrating his ouster in 2007 and attempting to 'rewrite history' to take credit for developing the pioneering electric Roadster the two men worked together to create." Libel, slander, breach of contract, bad management... Eberhard even says that Tesla wrecked his car (and denied him the #1 production Roadster despite a signed deal)! It's all in there. Read on for more details.
Elon Musk at the wheel of a Tesla Model S electric sedan. Photo: ABG
Of course, Elon Musk and Tesla will respond. Wired writes:
Tesla Motors calls the suit a work of fiction and says it will not only vigorously defend itself, but file a countersuit.
"This lawsuit is an unfair personal attack and, more importantly, paints an inaccurate picture of Tesla's history," the company said Wednesday night in a statement. "This lawsuit is a fictionalized account of Tesla's early years — it's twisted and wrong, and we welcome the opportunity to set the record straight. As the media have already chronicled extensively, the board of directors unanimously fired Martin, largely over the fact that the cost of the car was more than twice what Martin portrayed it to be at the time. Incidentally, Tesla will also be filing counterclaims and in the process present an accurate account of the company's history."
What about Eberhard's car?
Eberhard claims he was to receive the first Roadster to roll off the assembly line, but Musk allegedly insisted it was his. The suit says Eberhard agreed to take the second car — which he says would be worth far less as a collectible — and got the deal in writing, only to see Musk allegedly sell the car to a friend in February, 2008.
At about that time, Tesla allegedly told Eberhard his car was on its way but would have to undergo "endurance testing." Several months later, according to the suit, Eberhard learned an unnamed Tesla employee "had driven Eberhard's Roadster into the back of a truck, almost completely totaling the vehicle." The damage was so bad, the suit states, that the car "required the replacement of no fewer than 75 different parts."
This is probably a cue for some Hollywood scriptwriter to add: "Don't mess with a man's car!"
What Will This Do to Tesla?
While Eberhard certainly has a right to take legal actions against Musk and Tesla, the thing I'm most curious about is what this will do to Tesla. It certainly can't be good. Will it tarnish the company's image? Is it a look inside the sausage factory that most people could've done without, or is it a good thing because it will help set the record straight and possibly help Tesla reform and become a better company? Too early to tell, but the potential for damage to one of the pioneers of modern electric cars certainly is there.
Will Tesla lose its halo? If so, what would it mean for electric cars? Some might say not much since they haven't shipped that many EVs yet, but Tesla has always been about more than that; it helped make electric cars something that the mainstream (and media) cars more about, and it no doubt helped push other car companies in the direction of EVs.
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