Saturday, October 25, 2008

Musk Unplugged: Tesla C.E.O. Discusses Car Troubles

"Last week, Tesla Motors, Silicon Valley’s favorite electric-car start-up, replaced its chief executive, laid off employees and delayed production of its second car.

On Friday, Elon Musk, Tesla’s new chief executive and its largest investor, elaborated on the turmoil at the company in an interview.

Mr. Musk said that 87 people — about a quarter of the company — were laid off in the current retrenchment. "

"Tesla’s troubles are not new. Mr. Musk is the fourth chief executive of the San Carlos, Calif., company since it was founded in 2003. The production delay follows a long line of other delays. Mr. Musk, who made his fortune from the sale of online payment site PayPal to eBay, acknowledged that building cars has taken four times the time and effort he expected.

He has invested $55 million of his own money into Tesla, which is why he stepped in to replace Ze’ev Drori as chief executive as the company reached yet another crossroads. “We’re going through a very difficult economic period and I’ve got so many chips on the table with Tesla, it just made sense for me to have both hands on the wheel,” he said. "

"Mr. Musk blamed the bulk of Tesla’s problems on its first chief executive, Martin Eberhard, whom Mr. Musk said spent too much money and too many years developing the company’s first car. “It’s taken us about a year to correct major errors,” Mr. Musk said.

Mr. Eberhard, who is now an entrepreneur at Mayfield Fund, disputed that. “He’s still blaming it on me a year later and three C.E.O.s later?” he said. “Look at the constant factor at the company through all the years: Elon.”

Tesla’s first car, the $109,000 Roadster, has a year-long waiting list,and Tesla is shipping 10 each week, Mr. Musk said. Tesla was at first losing money on the Roadster but now the car is “just barely” gross-margin-positive, he said. He plans to further reduce the cost of making the car and cut operating expenses to get the company to cash-flow-positive in six to nine months. "

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