TIMELINE: Tesla's Long Road to a Home for the Model S


Tesla Motors‘ road to securing a production facility for its second-generation electric car, the Model S sedan, has been a long and at times bumpy one. A week ago the startup announced that the vehicle, once planned for assembly in Albuequerque, and later in California (at various sites), will be built at the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif. — the former home of a joint venture between Toyota (s TM) and General Motors (s GM).

Of course, it ain’t over ’til it’s over for a car that holds the key to Tesla’s profitability in coming years, but here’s a look at milestones so far along the trek toward a home for the Model S:

February 2007: Tesla plans to build a $35 million assembly plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a second-generation electric model, code-named “WhiteStar.” Construction is targeted to begin in April 2007, and production to begin in 2009.

October 2007: DOE invites 16 pre-applicants, including Tesla, from a pool of 143 project sponsors to submit full applications for loan guarantees. Tesla hopes to secure a loan guarantee for an affordable electric sedan factory in New Mexico.

June 2008: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to Tesla’s San Carlos headquarters to announce new incentives for electric vehicle manufacturers in the state, including a program exempting EV makers from sales and use tax on manufacturing equipment for building electric cars, and a grant program for training employees. During Schwarzenegger’s visit, Tesla formally announces plans to build the Model S (heretofore code-named “WhiteStar”) in California.

September 2008: Tesla says it plans to build an assembly plant for the Model S at an 89-acre plot between Zanker Road and Highway 237 in San Jose, Calif. Construction slated to begin summer 2009. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed says the project could create 1,000 jobs.

October 2008: Elon Musk takes over as CEO, says the company would have to raise $100 million to move into working on the Model S. Amid terrible market conditions, Tesla opts to delay the vehicle and wait for government funding.

November 2008: Tesla reveals it has requested about $400 million in direct low-interest loans for Model S and powertrain manufacturing, under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program. Tesla VP of corporate development Diarmuid O’Connell says the company hopes to secure the loans by January or February 2009, and manufacturing could be set up in “a matter of months.”

January 2009: Tesla says it’s interested in setting up Model S assembly at a “brownfield” (such as an old site for chipmaking in Silicon Valley or land left over from the aeronautics industry in Southern California) that can be rehabilitated and built upon. A Tesla spokesperson explains that building on an undeveloped “greenfield” like the one at Zanker Road could jeopardize Tesla’s loan bid and says, “We never gave up on other contingency plans throughout the state.”

February 2009: Tesla begins accepting $40,000 deposits from Roadster customers to nab spots at the head of the line for a Model S.

March 2009: Tesla unveils two slick prototypes — one silver, one white — of its concept for the Model S at the Los Angeles headquarters of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s other startup, SpaceX. Tesla begins taking orders (and $10,000 deposits) for the sedan.

June 2009: Tesla wins conditional commitment for $465 million in direct loans from the Department of Energy under the ATVM program, including $365 million to finance a production facility for the Model S. Tesla says it’s in “the final stages of negotiation for facilities in California.”

Photo courtesy of Tesla MotorsOctober 2009: California Treasurer’s office approves request from Tesla to avoid paying sales tax on up to $320 million worth of manufacturing equipment, including $238 million worth of machinery for Model S production, under the incentive program Schwarzenegger announced in June 2008. State estimates deal will save Tesla $28.8 million.

November 2009: Downey, Calif. Mayor Mario Guerra says a deal for Tesla to set up assembly line for Model S at former NASA site in Downey is “99.9 percent done.”

December 2009: As of December 31, Tesla says it has logged 2,000 reservations for the Model S.

January 2010: Tesla files to go public. S-1 document notes the company has agreed as part of the DOE loan terms to spend up to $33 million “plus any cost overruns” for the Model S and powertrain projects, and set aside half of the net proceeds from the IPO. The S-1 shows how much the company is betting its future on the success the Model S.

February 2010: Draft environmental assessment filed with regulators indicates the process of setting up manufacturing facilities (preparing buildings, installing tooling, firing up the assembly line) at the Downey site could take 18 months. Former Tesla marketing VP Darryl Siry predicts “actual production of the vehicle for customers” could take as long as a year after completion of the facility, potentially pushing production to the fourth quarter of 2012.

May 2010: Toyota agrees to buy $50 million stake in Tesla, following closing of Tesla’s IPO. Tesla says it will buy the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Calif. An SEC filing shows Tesla expects to spend $42 million on the facility.

2012: Model S production scheduled to begin in a portion of NUMMI facility.

2013: DOE expects Model S production volumes to hit 20,000 per year.

Images courtesy of Tesla Motors and Flickr users radzfoto, jurvetson and psd (Creative Commons license).

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This is a nice summary, thanks.

I would expand it to include changes that affected the Whitestar concept itself: First an EV, then an EREV (like the Volt) and then an EV again. The hiring, firing, and subsequent lawsuit with hot shot automotive designer Henrik Fisker, eventually replaced with another hot shot, Franz von Holzhausen. Etc.


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