Tesla IPO: Electric Car Startup Files for $100M Public Offering, Finally

Tesla Motors, the San Carlos, Calif.-based electric car startup, has just registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $100 million initial public offering. This could be the biggest and possibly the first public offering for a U.S. car company since Ford Motor’s IPO more than 50 years ago.

The long-awaited IPO (rumors swirled last fall that the filing could come any day and the startup has discussed for years its intention to go public), if and when it goes through, will offer a test for whether the classic venture capital model (invest early and find a big exit in the form of an acquisition or an IPO) will be viable in the nascent green car market. Based on how the market responds to the offering from Tesla — a company with considerable buzz and funding from the Department of Energy, but so far not a single profitable year — will also serve as a gauge of public confidence in electric cars.

According to Tesla’s filing, the startup has accumulated net losses of more than $236 million since its inception, including $31.5 million for the first nine months of 2009 (down from $57.3 million in the same period a year earlier). Through the end of September 2009, Tesla garnered revenue of $108 million, most of it ($93.4 million) in 2009. The company anticipates “continuing losses for at least the forseeable future,” as a result of increased costs and expenses associated with design, development and manufacture of the Model S sedan, as well as ramped up marketing, new store openings and other expansion efforts.

While Tesla is now “almost entirely dependent upon revenue generated” through sales of the luxury electric Roadster, it sees its “future success” hinging on acceptance of the mid-range Model S — a project that holds many uncertainties for the startup despite $365 million in federal loans supporting this next-gen model. Tesla notes, for example, that its “production model for the non-powertrain portion of the Model S is unproven, still evolving and is very different from” that portion of the Tesla Roadster. We’ll have more tidbits from the S-1 coming up soon. In the meantime, you can check out the full document here.

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