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Summary:

It’s becoming clear that the CEO shuffle at Silicon Valley electric car startup Tesla wasn’t exactly a friendly one. Last Friday, Tesla said company co-founder and former CEO, Martin Eberhard, who had stepped down in August to become the president of technology, will now transition from […]

eberhard.jpgIt’s becoming clear that the CEO shuffle at Silicon Valley electric car startup Tesla wasn’t exactly a friendly one. Last Friday, Tesla said company co-founder and former CEO, Martin Eberhard, who had stepped down in August to become the president of technology, will now transition from the board of directors and executive management of the company to the advisory board.

And if this forum is to be believed, Eberhard this weekend responded with a statement of his own:

Yes it is true — I am no longer with Tesla Motors — neither on its Board of Directors nor an employee of any sort. I have also signed a non-disparagement agreement with Tesla, so I must. by contract, be a bit careful about how I word things. But I am also not going to lie about it. I am not at all happy with the way I was treated, and I do not think this was the very best way to handle a transition — not the best for Tesla Motors, not the best for Tesla’s customers (to whom I still feel a strong sense of responsibility), and not for Tesla’s investors.

musk.jpgWe can imagine the fisticuffs that went on between Eberhard and Elon Musk, Tesla’s Chairman and significant funding source. Check out Inc. magazine’s December profile of Musk for more details on that relationship. Musk is also a co-founder of PayPal, as well as the brains behind solar installer SolarCity and aerospace startup SpaceX. One sentence in particular about the CEO transition caught my eye:

“Musk, who several months ago demoted Eberhard to president of technology and installed an interim CEO, argues that…”

Hmmm, interesting, because here’s Eberhard description of the transition (in his own words, on the Tesla blog) back in August:

I initiated a CEO search many months ago as Tesla Motors has grown in size and complexity beyond twice the size and at least five times the complexity of any organization I have run before. I was becoming concerned that my own inexperience with large organizations and operations would soon become a limitation for the company’s success, and I set the machinery of change in motion in advance of any problems.

Anyway, according to the forum post Eberhard will look forward, and says:

For my part, I am a free man. I will probably spend the next 6 months thinking about my next venture. I still care about the things that concerned me 5 years ago, so I will look for another opportunity to contribute to solving the dual problems of global warming and oil dependency. Hopefully, I will begin posting my own blog at http://www.teslafounders.com.

By Katie Fehrenbacher

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  1. I hesitate to say this, because Mr. Musk is far smarter than I am, but if he wished to avoid Tesla Motors from being a “niche play” (Inc. Magazine reference) then he shouldn’t have built an all-electric vehicle.

    Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) will put all-electrics in a niche that they will never get out of, because they provide more than 90% of the benefits of all-electrics at about 20-30% of the cost.

    A Tesla Roadster driver will be hauling around several hundred pounds of extra batteries costing an extra tens of thousands of dollars that they will end up using
    only a fraction of the time (that is, when they are driving more than 20-40 miles in a day). That is poor utility, which is fine for a performance vehicle, but will not translate well to the broader market. Hence, the niche.

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  2. Time for a clue.
    Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) will put all-electrics in a niche that they will never get out of, because they provide more than 90% of the benefits of all-electrics at about 20-30% of the cost.
    First, the tesla speedster was MEANT to be high costs but with top performance. For the performance that it has, it is blowing the doors off of cars that cost 2-3 x it.
    Secondly, they are designing a sedan that will cost 35K. It will most almost certainly not have the performance of the speedster, but it will match or beat current sedans. The distance will probably only be about 125-120Mile, give or take. But the interesting thing is that they CAN create a small pluggable unit that hooks on the back bumper and provides the power. Imagine a small unit weighing about 100 Kilos but attaches to where the bumper is. It would contain a small engine, generator and a gas tank. This could then provide power to the car. enough to extend the range by say another 200 miles or more (depending on the size of the generator and usage).

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  3. g.r.r.:

    A cart? You want to drag a cart around to keep your electric car charged? What if you don’t know you need to drive a long ways on a particular day? What if you are in a hurry and don’t have time to hook up your “cart”? Maybe not every driver has the strength to wheel around a 100 kg cart. Maybe they won’t want to kneel on the ground in their suit or dress to hook the thing up.

    I see some issues with broad consumer acceptance for that one. How about this: you DESIGN the car to contain a small engine. Then you don’t need to worry about the cart. There’s even a name for them; they are called PHEVs.

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  4. First off, I never suggested a cart (nor a trailer). I suggested that an idea being looked at, is to have a pluggable attachment to the back of the car. It would weight about 200 lbs. A simple back-up to it, and it plugs into the frame. Nothing to touch. The same attachment would be usable on the speedster AND the sedan. It probably would not totally power either, but it would certainly extend the radius. Of course, once the batteries are down, it will take overnight to recharge, but not a big issue.

    As to the issue of consumers not knowing when they will need it, well, that is a LONG stretch. In fact, most of your first post was.

    Jim, I am guessing that you are Jim Bryers who is doing VC with your own PHEV (if so, I love the marketing). What I will point out is that the electrics are NO threat to the PHEV. I think that they will be gone within a decade. The reason is that they are too complicated. With a PHEV, you have 2 systems that require maintenance. KISS is the right approach. But I want to see you push the PHEV. The nice thing about that, is that it will push mechanics to learn electrical systems. IOW, the PHEV will change one of the 3 shortcomings for electrical; the first being that mechanics are geared towards engines, not motors. The second being that gas stations are geared towards, well, gas. That will fall. Finally, the big manufacturers are not doing electric. If the other 2 are solved, the 3rd will change. What is nice, is that if you do a serial implementation rather than a parallel, you will make it easy for the group to change to electric once super capacitors become the rage. Good luck.

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  5. No, I am not a VC (I wish….)
    I have no idea who g.r.r. is.
    Yes, I am interested in PHEVs.
    Yes, a PHEV is more complex than an all-electric.
    Yes, current consumers like being able to drive more than 125 miles a day, at least some of the time. (Maybe that will change someday.)
    And yes, much of the time the consumer only drives 20 miles per day, so why haul around all those extra expensive batteries?
    Yes, I am a big fan of KISS. I am also a big fan of COST. As in, how much will this thing COST?
    Yes, a newer battery or UCap could change everything; we can always hope, can’t we?
    FWIW, I think it would be GREAT if all-electrics ruled the road someday, but the technology is barely viable for PHEVs, let alone all-electrics. (Maybe that will change, maybe it won’t.)
    Perhaps we can both agree that PHEVs are the next step. You think the step after that will come sooner than I do.

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  6. [...] the last several months. He replaced the interim CEO, who in turn replaced founder Martin Eberhard, who wasn’t exactly happy about the abrupt transition. But the craziness is all to get the flashy, sleek, electric sports car into the hands of its first [...]

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  7. [...] startup has parted ways with its CEO. Over recent weeks the CEOs of electric sports car startup Tesla, and thin film solar company Miasole have jumped ship (or walked the plank). Now the Friday before [...]

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  8. [...] and chairman of its Board of Directors. Over recent weeks the CEOs of electric sports car startup Tesla, and thin film solar company Miasole have jumped ship (or walked the [...]

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  9. [...] amount of staff recently, according to various reports. Former Tesla CEO Martin Eberhard, who left Tesla late last year, lists 26 people, including many high-level execs, who he says have been cut recently, on his new [...]

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