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Summary:

I spent a long time thinking and writing about why being acknowledged as a founder was so important to Tesla Motors founder Martin Eberhard as well as what the founder title means for entrepreneurs (monetarily and emotionally) overall. But it takes someone who experienced the workings […]

tzeroI spent a long time thinking and writing about why being acknowledged as a founder was so important to Tesla Motors founder Martin Eberhard as well as what the founder title means for entrepreneurs (monetarily and emotionally) overall. But it takes someone who experienced the workings of the electric car startup in the early days firsthand to point out a key piece of Tesla’s founding legacy. Former chief marketing officer of Tesla, and now entrepreneur and consultant, Darryl Siry just published a thoughtful article in Wired about a crucial influence in Tesla’s creation: AC Propulsion.

AC Propulsion is that not-so-well-known company down in San Dimas, Calif., that makes an electric drive train and the electric car eBox. The most attention AC Propulsion gets is when Tom Hanks talks about driving his eBox.

But as Siry points out, AC Propulsion’s Tom Gage and Alan Cocconi actually originally came up with the idea of building an electric sports car with beefed-up range and good acceleration. The duo developed the prototype tzero electric car, which Siry calls “essentially the prototypical Tesla Roadster with a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds and a range of more than 200 miles using commodity lithium-ion cells.”

Musk and Eberhard both approached Gage and Cocconi separately to start producing the tzero before starting Tesla. Instead of working with either of Tesla’s original members, Gage and Cocconi actually connected Musk and Eberhard, who…well, you know that story (or various versions of it).

The duo behind AC Propulsion didn’t have the same big-picture vision of using an EV sports car to create mass appeal as Musk and Eberhard did and to this day aren’t really capitalizing on their key role in the current electric car movement. It’s pretty much the opposite strategy of Eberhard, who in his lawsuit is partly fighting for recognition as Tesla’s founder. Siry writes of AC Propulsion:

I get the sense it isn’t in their DNA to reach for the golden ring. Maybe that’s for the best. The reluctant visionaries may not achieve the commercial success or profile of Tesla, but history will afford them a richer legacy in the balance of time.

Hopefully. But as we know well, history is made of stories, some true, some partly true, some not true at all. And sometimes it’s the loudest voice, and the strongest will, that shapes it the most.

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  1. Regarding the politics of the DOE ATVM Loan awards:
    So it turns out to be all the best loans money can buy.
    Ford paid over $14M to elected officials and consultants in order to get the loan. Ford paid the third largest amount and Ford got the third largest loan. This is disclosed in public records searches and lobby filings just revealed. 21 elected officials had direct benefit from the deal.
    Nissan paid over $10M to elected officials and consultants in order to get the loan. Nissan paid the third largest amount and Nissan got the third largest loan. This is disclosed in public records searches and lobby filings just revealed. The law and public statements by elected officials state that the money was to increase American competitiveness for America car companies yet the money was given to a Japanese company who will send all of the profits back to Japan. 7 elected officials had direct benefit from the deal.
    Tesla paid over $100,000.00 to elected officials and consultants in order to get the loan. Tesla paid the third largest amount and Tesla got the third largest loan. This is disclosed in public records searches and lobby filings just revealed. Tesla’s filings show that their business model is unsustainable compared to competitors, that they were 200% off on the BOM of their car, that all of their first funding was wasted so they have to pay back twice as much to investors as competing companies and that their technology is so old, it all needs to be redone yet they still got money. 18 elected officials had direct benefit from the deal. Tesla did not even read the rules for the loan and planned to build a building when the NEPA rules make that option impossible so they had to restart the process, which is supposed to put one into a new cycle yet they were kept in the previous cycle and put ahead of Fisker, Bright and others who had applied earlier than Tesla. Tesla provided massively creative accounting records to show that they were financially sustainable and have issued numerous press releases to try to make people think that but, in fact, the truth is that they are not because of bad management issues that they cannot get past.
    The ATVM program was created by Ford, GM & Chrysler lobbyists to pad their company’s pockets and those three had pre-hardwired the entire $25B for their own pockets but something happened in the process when Senator Bingaman added a few key lines that opened the door for OTHERS to apply to build green technology and required that those who get the money were “financially sustainable” businesses. Back when the ATVM was authored to save Detroit, it was fully known that Detroit was going to go bankrupt. Ford had the same problems as GM and Chrysler but they went around the world getting bailout money instead of going first to US funds. As law required public exposure of the bankruptcy, Bingaman’s brilliant plan to finally create a green transportation industry was revealed. The very people that had stopped green cars for over 100 years suddenly became the first people to, accidently, cause them to happen but now others could do it too.
    Bingaman should get the Congressional Medal of Honor for pulling off this impossible trick and finally giving America the Electric Cars it should have had for the last hundred years.
    Once Detroit realized this, they tried to hijack the whole ATVM program with a takeback at the end of 2008 but that effort was defeated by a close late night vote. Now that it was out there, Detroit lobbyists and influencers fought to get the review of applicants delayed for as long as possible because they realized that, in a recession, most of the smaller competing interests could be forced to go out of business if they could just be kept away from the money for long enough. Major American TARP banks have said that the standard commercial loan process that each of these 26 applicants (not hundreds of applicants- There were 26 applicants in the round) should take 4 weeks at the longest and 3 weeks nominally. It seems clear that the loans were delayed due to political agendas and not process issues. It is not that there were no resources for the review as the Section 136 law provided over $10M in staff fees to review 26 people (Banks spend $10,000.00 to review 26 applications)
    Bright Automotive had applied on time, ahead of the others, turned in low overhead numbers and a great path too profit but they were virtually ignored while intensive meetings were conducted with Nissan, Ford and Tesla because those parties paid for it. The law says that this, and the purchasing of favors, gave those parties an unfair business advantage using taxpayer dollars, over Bright. A case Bright would easily win if they choose to run with it.
    Clearly, it isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for the Senate, Congressional, Ethics Committee and media reviews of this one. Watch for the charts connecting who-to-who. (It is OK to re-post this)

  2. So who takes the blame when the Tesla’s crappy battery technology fails and a class action lawsuit hits the fan? Now can you engineer a battery pack with over 15,000 cell connections and ensure reliability. None of the engineers polled thought so.
    Of course, the next question is why anyone would design such a battery pack? Answer – because Tesla had no access to large format cell technology and chose instead to use flashlight batteries that were not designed for, nor appropriate to, and electric car.
    The Tesla is a disaster waiting to happen. And happen it surely will.

  3. L.A.’s New Take On “Car Culture”: Green Car Launchpad Friday, December 4, 2009

    [...] Coda Automotive and Aptera are all headquartered in SoCal. And AC Propulsion, which first developed the prototypical technology that evolved into the Tesla Roadster, calls San Dimas, 30 miles east of Los Angeles, home. When it comes to manufacturing, Tesla Motors, [...]

  4. From Research to Reality: Using Electric Vehicles to Regulate the Grid Friday, May 14, 2010

    [...] photo) AC Propulsion’s eBox — a converted Toyota ScionxB that uses a drivetrain that later became the core tech for the Tesla Roadster – to the PJM grid using a signal from the PJM control center to dispatch the vehicle as a [...]

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