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A Couple Gems in the Tesla NYT Profile

As if Tesla’s CEO and driving force Elon Musk needed any more press — this weekend’s Sunday New York Times featured a long profile of the company and Musk’s personal story. Overall the article represented a pretty fair and balanced take — pointing out his awe-inspiring ambitions and also interviewing those that think his ambitions are a little disconnected from reality — though, most of the material in the article has been covered before on our site, or others. However, there were a couple tidbits that stood out in the article, which I thought would be particularly interesting for hardcore Tesla watchers.

First, is the role that the VCs at Tesla investor VantagePoint Venture Partners (which owned 7.13 million shares, or 9.11 percent, worth nearly $121.2M at $17 apiece pre-IPO), played in the early days of the company. According to the New York Time’s Claire Cain Miller, Musk had a major brawl with VantagePoint’s chief executive Alan Salzman, who Musk says wanted to dismiss most of the board members and appoint a new CEO in 2008 in return for a “sizable investment.” Reportedly VantagePoint’s director on Tesla’s board, Jim Marver, subsequently left the board after that fight and Musk ended up pumping $75 million of his own money into Tesla and took over as CEO.

Another interesting side note is about Tesla co-founder and previous CEO Martin Eberhard, who at one point sued Elon Musk and Tesla over who was the real founder of the company (that suit was settled). I had heard earlier this month that Eberhard was working at Volkswagen and the New York Times article confirms that. Eberhard tells the New York Times that he plans to sell his Tesla stock because “I tend to invest in companies where I trust the management.” Eberhard also re-raises the whole founding issue with the Times and says Musk “was not there, and had never heard of the company, when the company was founded.” I’m sure Tesla lawyers are reading that statement carefully.

When Tesla filed its S1 earlier this year I was surprised to see that Eberhard wasn’t listed as a principle stockholder, but is only named twice in the S-1, as owning 4,097 shares during the series D fund raise. Eberhard’s co-founder, Marc Tarpenning, also received those 4,097 shares via Series D, but Tarpenning also ended up owning 1.06 million shares (1.36 percent) worth nearly $18.1 million at the $17 apiece IPO price. OK, that’s a little tragic for basically one of the founders to have no upside. This is pure speculation, but I would guess that the rest of Eberhard’s shares got sucked into the settlement of the lawsuit.

Finally, the New York Times article ends by leaving open the possibility of Tesla one day being acquired by a big automaker and quotes Musk as saying that while he wants to remain independent, “at some point in the future there may be an acquisition, but it’s not in the near term — I don’t think.” One note on that, Daimler (via Blackstar) actually has a deal with Tesla that Daimler has the right to offer a competing acquisition proposal offer in the event that any other company looks to acquire Tesla up until the end of 2011 (page 153). So if Tesla gets bought within the next 1.5 years, it could very well be by Daimler.

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Image courtesy of Steve Jurvetson’s flickr feed.

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