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History of Tesla: Timeline and Facts

To some people, they make fancy toys for the smug rich. Others think they're going to save the world. Either way, you've almost certainly heard of a little company called Tesla.
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For the right kind of person, usually someone with a particularly active Twitter feed and a dozen open Reddit tabs, Elon Musk is going to save the world. Tesla, Inc. is how.

The Founding of Tesla

Tesla (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report , Inc. was founded in 2003 by the engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in San Carlos, California. It was originally called Tesla Motors, a name the company changed in 2017.

The company was named after the 19th-century inventor Nikola Tesla, best known for discovering the properties of rotating electromagnetic fields. His work led to what is known as "alternating current," the form of electrical transmission still used today. (This was as opposed to the far less efficient system called "direct current" favored by Thomas Edison.) Tesla is historically noted for his significant contributions to electrical engineering and sciences, and in recent decades has become a pop culture icon among engineers.

At the founding of Tesla, Eberhard served as its CEO and Tarpenning served as CFO. They launched their company to develop and produce an entirely electric car, in part, based on the favorable reaction test markets had to General Motor's (GM) - Get General Motors Company Report previous electric car experiment the EV1. Although GM only ran this program from 1996 - 1999, producing a limited run of cars that it never released for public purchase, it was generally considered successful from an engineering standpoint.

Eberhard and Tarpenning wanted to build upon that success.

Although Musk has long been the face of Tesla, he did not join the company until 2004. He invested $30 million into the company and became the chairman of its Board of Directors. (Notably, Musk would also help raise money from Google  (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Report founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page in 2006.)

Originally, Eberhard and Tarpenning dreamed of building an entirely electric sports car. In 2006 they unveiled the prototype for their Tesla Roadster which entered production in 2008.

With the Roadster, Tesla achieved something that no company ever had. They produced an entirely electric car with practical specifications that could arguably meet consumer needs. Previous experiments in this field had failed because, among other issues, companies struggled to produce a battery powerful enough to keep cars on the road and a cost-effective motor that could fit inside a consumer vehicle and accelerate it to highway speed.

The Roadster met those needs. The first model produced in 2008 could travel almost 250 miles on a single battery, with acceleration and top speed compared to many consumer-level sports cars. The Roadster used a standard lithium-ion battery structure, common to many electronic devices, and customers could recharge the car in a standard wall outlet.

This did not, however, make the Roadster a widely viable consumer product. At its release the car costs a little more than $100,000, pricing most consumers out of the market. Further, the company immediately ran into the problem of charging time. The original Roadster could require between 24 and 48 hours to recharge on a standard home outlet.

Charging time remains one of the biggest problems with the widespread adoption of electric cars. While Tesla has dramatically improved its technology in this regard, to this day it takes more than an hour to fully recharge one of the company's vehicles even under ideal conditions. This puts them at a dramatic disadvantage compared to the minutes it takes to refill a car with gasoline.

Can Lithium Supply Keep Up With Strong Electric Vehicle Demand?

Changing Leadership and Controversy

During 2008 Tesla also made significant changes to its leadership team.

In 2007 Eberhard resigned as CEO of Tesla but remained as a member of the company's advisory board. He was succeeded first by Michael Marks, a Tesla investor who served as temporary CEO. Ze'ev Drori took over as Eberhard's permanent replacement in November.

Drori is often credited with turning the Roadster from a prototype into a viable product. When he took over in 2007 the project had lagged, and much of the reporting on Tesla focused on whether the company could deliver its flagship (and only) product to market. Drori oversaw the successful launch of the Roadster in 2008.

However, shortly before their company shipped its first automobile (Roadster Number 1, to Musk) co-founders Eberhard and Tarpenning left Tesla entirely. Not long after, in October 2008, Musk took over as CEO of the company and fired 25% of the company's staff.

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This transition did not happen without controversy. Eberhard and Tarpenning alleged that they were forced out of the company that they founded, and in 2009 Eberhard sued Tesla and Musk for issues including libel and slander. He alleged that he had been forced out of the company and that the delays and financial problems associated with the Roadster had been unfairly blamed on his leadership. Eberhard dropped his suit later that same year.

Survival and Modern Times

Despite launching the Roadster, in 2009 Tesla faced significant financial problems. The company had less than $10 million in cash on hand, potentially less than it needed to even deliver on the cars it had already sold. In May of that year Daimler AG (DDAIF) bought a 10% stake in the company for $50 million. A subsequent $465 million loan from the Department of Energy in June gave the company the working capital it needed to survive. In August of the same year, the company relocated to its current headquarters in Palo Alto.

The company found a more stable solution for its short-term capital concerns when it went public in 2010. Opening on the NASDAQ at $17 a share, Tesla raised $226 million in its IPO.

In 2008 Tesla also announced its first attempt at bringing down the cost of its products, the Model S sedan which would retail for $76,000, three-quarters of the price of the Roadster. The modern face of Tesla arguably began in 2011 when the company unveiled its prototype of this vehicle. While still a luxury sedan, the Model S was Tesla's first step toward the mainstream consumer market (away from the specialized sector of sports car drivers). The car went into full production in 2012.

The Model S was critically successful. It received awards from several automotive and environmental publications and, like the Roadster before, set new benchmarks for what an electric vehicle could achieve. Among other critical advances, the Model S had a range of up to 300 miles and a reduced charging time. By the end of 2012, Tesla discontinued the production of the Roadster to focus on its new line of sedans.

In 2012 Tesla also opened its first freestanding charging stations, called Superchargers. It began with six located in California and, at the time of publishing, has expanded to operate more than 1,000 worldwide. These locations offered free charging to Tesla owners, faster than using a common wall outlet.

In 2013 the company made its first quarterly profit, and the following year announced its Gigafactory in Nevada. This is the facility where the company makes the batteries that power its devices and is considered crucial to its entire business model. (It is also, by square footage, one of the largest buildings in the world.)

Tesla has since expanded its ambitions. In 2015 the company announced a new line of solar energy products designed to power homes and businesses through rechargeable batteries. By 2017 Tesla had changed its name from "Tesla Motors" to its current name "Tesla, Inc." to indicate that the new scope of its products. Musk, in several public writings and statements, has said that he would like the company to eventually become an energy solution across many sectors.

Continuing its push into the mass consumer market, in 2016 Tesla announced its Model 3 sedan. This would be the company's first car targeted at a mainstream market, with a price point below $70,000. Musk, arguably, got overexcited about the release of this product and announced that the company would deliver up to 200,000 vehicles in the second half of 2017 -- four times as many as Tesla actually produced. While Musk had been known for making sweeping public statements, this was the beginning of several postings online which would get him and the company into trouble.

Entering 2018 Tesla faced several difficulties. Missed predictions had led investors to dump the company's stock, and in the middle of 2017, it lost more than 5% of its value in a collapse worth $12 billion. By January 2018 Tesla was producing its Model 3 sedans at a fraction of the rate it had anticipated. Over a three-month period, the company managed to finish and ship 2,400 cars after promising consumers and investors that it could complete more than 5,000 per week.

The company claimed that many of these problems came from its supply chain, which required it to inefficiently source parts from around the world rather than build and assemble the cars in one place.

Tesla's production issues paled in comparison to the legal troubles that Musk would create later that year on Twitter (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report . On Aug. 7, Musk tweeted that he planned to take the company private "at $420" and had secured funding to buy back Tesla's shares. This set off a round of active trading as investors raced to grab shares before the privatization buyback, elevating the company's stock price by 10% before trading was halted.

Tesla did not go private and has not done so at the time of writing.

In September the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Musk with securities fraud based on his tweet, alleging that he had released false and misleading information that drove up the company's stock price. Despite rejecting the SEC's first offer of settlement after Musk threatened to resign from the company, Tesla and Musk eventually accepted terms. Tesla paid a $20 million fine. Musk did so as well and stepped down from his position as chairman of the company's board.

He was replaced as director by Robyn Denholm, a board member of the company, but remains the CEO.

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation of Tesla to determine if it misled investors regarding its production capacities of the Model 3. In February 2019 the SEC filed a motion for contempt after Musk published a tweet regarding Tesla's production capacities. This led to an amendment to Musk and Tesla's original settlement which now requires active oversight of Musk's Twitter (TWTR) - Get Twitter Inc. Report account by the company's attorneys.

Timeline of Tesla

2003 - Tesla Motors founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning in San Carlos, California. They serve as its CEO and CFO, respectively.

2004 - Elon Musk invests $30 million and joins Tesla as the Chairman of its Board of Directors.

2006 - Tesla showcases the prototype for its first car, the all-electric Roadster.

2007 - Eberhard resigns as CEO of Tesla. He is replaced by interim CEO Michael Marks.

2007 - Ze'ev Drori takes over as Tesla's permanent CEO.

2008 - The Roadster enters production. Elon Musk receives the first vehicle produced.

2008 - Ze'ev Drori resigns as Tesla's CEO. He is replaced by Elon Musk who remains CEO to this day.

2008 - Tesla announces its plans for the Model S sedan.

2009 - Eberhard files a lawsuit against Tesla and Musk alleging that he was forced out of the company, and that Musk has taken credit for creating a company that Eberhard and Tarpenning built. He drops the suit later that year.

2009 - Facing financial troubles, Tesla seeks investment from Daimler AG and a loan from the Department of Energy.

2009 - Tesla relocates its headquarters to Palo Alto, where it remains to this day.

2010 - Tesla goes public, raising $226 million in its IPO.

2011 - Tesla showcases the prototype for its Model S, the company's first sedan.

2012 - The Model S sedan goes into full-time production.

2012 - Tesla discontinues production of the Roadster.

2012 - Tesla launches its first Supercharger charging stations with six locations in California.

2013 - Tesla posts its first quarterly profit.

2014 - Tesla announces its Nevada Gigafactory, where the company will manufacture the batteries for all of its products.

2015 - The company enters the solar power market, announcing a line of products to power homes and businesses based on a combination of solar panels and batteries.

2016 - Tesla announces plans for the Model 3 sedan, its first car aimed at a mass market.

2017 - Tesla Motors changes its name to Tesla, Inc. This remains the company's name to this day.

2018 - Tesla misses quotas for the Model 3 sedan, producing over a three-month period less than half of what it had forecast it could produce in one week.

2018 - Musk announces on Twitter that he plans to take the company private at $420 per share, and that he has already secured the funds to do so. He does not take the company private and has not, at time of writing, done so. This leads to a flurry of trading that drives up the price of Tesla's stock.

2018 - The SEC charges Musk with securities fraud.

2018 - Musk and Tesla accept a settlement from the SEC. Musk pays $20 million and steps down as the Chairman of Tesla's Board of Directors. He is replaced by Robyn Denholm. Tesla also pays $20 million and agrees to oversee Musk's Twitter account.

2018 - The Department of Justice begins an investigation into whether Tesla misled investors about its Model 3 production capacity.

2019 - The SEC seeks a contempt order after Musk makes a Twitter announcement regarding Tesla's production capacity. The settlement is revised after a judge finds that Tesla has conducted no oversight of Musk's Twitter activity.

2019 - Musk and Tesla unveil the "Cybertruck," an electric six-seater pickup truck. Musk later claims that Tesla has gotten 250,000 orders for the Cybertruck.

2020 - On the wave of a strong fiscal quarter and analyst upgrades, Tesla stock surges, eventually reaching over $900.

Tesla Stock

For a while, 2019 had not been kind to Tesla's stock. After opening at $310.12 on Jan. 1 and reaching a high of $347.31, Tesla's stock price has dropped considerably. It reached a year-to-date low of $178.97 in June.

It was, in many ways, a difficult year for the company. It has lost several significant members of its executive team, including its CTO JB Straubel, CFO Deepak Ahuja and General Counsel Dane Butswinkas. Tesla began 2019 by laying off 7% of its employees and publicly contemplated closing most of its dealerships and laying off its retail employees in March.

This led to conflicting forecasts for Tesla stock. Some analysts believed that the company has a pattern of cultural, leadership and technical problems that will cause more serious problems in the long run. Others believed that the stock's dip reflects an overreaction by the market to short-term news, which has priced the company based more on Elon Musk's Twitter account than its actual value.

But Tesla's stock began rebounding in the second half of 2019 after hitting those lows. After spending several months over $200, reports of much stronger-than-expected Q3 earnings sent the stock price surging. Share prices continued to rise through the remainder of 2019 as things continued to go well for the company - orders for its upcoming Cybertruck, Musk's defamation trial ending in his favor - and closed 2019 at over $418 per share.

That momentum got even stronger in 2020, and as reports of yet another massively profitable quarter came in, shares surged to unprecedented levels. By Feb. 4, Tesla had surpassed a stock price of $900 - more than double its price when the year started just a month previously.