Tesla Chairman of the Board Elon Musk and the new CEO Ze'ev Drori are doing damage control. After intense Q&A; at the first ever Tesla townhall meeting, both have published a year-end missive reaching out to the masses of dreamers and believers that have followed Tesla from inspiring announcements and exciting rides through slipping schedules and reorganization. Their message: have faith.
We use the word faith at the risk of further firing the feverish brains of the green is a new religion conspiracy theorists. But any person who has worked on a project creating something bigger than themselves knows that faith belongs to the process, and that is without mention of regulatory hurdles and customer expectations in the era of quality systems.The good news: production unit one is off the line. The bad news: it has an anticipated transmission shelf life "measured in low single digits thousands of miles". Not suitable for delivery for more than road testing by auto journalists or to stimulate the hopes of superstar buyers like George Clooney, Michael Dell and Red Hot Chili Peppers' Michael Balzary. The planned solution is a compromise: the first Tesla electric sportscars will be sold with an "interim transmission" which has been proven reliable but which will not meet the promised acceleration of 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds, instead requiring 5.7 seconds to come up to speed.
The townhall meeting focused on not "overpromising" but did emphasize the unequivocal promise: "you'll get a great car." Without a commitment, Tesla indicates that a production schedule in the range of the "low 10's" of cars in the first half of 2008 can be anticipated. If accusations of "overpromising" can be made, they would focus around the optimistic energy unrepressably bubbling behind every reference to "ramping up" production as soon as delivery of reliable components can be assured.
Other key issues covered include the driving range tests and company capitalization. Tesla stands behind their "real-life" experience numbers of 165 miles in aggressive highway driving to 267 miles in conservative driving mode, but were forced to announce that the published results of official range testing by an independent laboratory are incorrect due to an incorrect calibration of a dynamometer. Re-testing resulted in an "official" value of 221 miles range, which remains a draft value until the testing is completed on a car with the transmission solution. Regarding capitalization: with backers like the founders of Google, JP Morgan and key eBay stockholders, Tesla can boast a lot of holders of the faith. In the worst case, CEO Elon Musk, founder of PayPal promises that Tesla will bring the car to market that has so excited the faithful in the electric car movement.
And we will say it again: what's in it for you and me? (Assuming you are not a key shareholder in Google, eBay or PayPal...) We won't be able to afford a Tesla anymore than we could afford a Ferrari or Maserati supercar. But the engineering and design achievements that inspire investments will trickle down to those of us in the hungry masses drooling after a new generation of transportation solutions.