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 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.