Nikola Tesla was a brilliant scientist and a major but unsung player in the development of electrical power in America. Tesla Motors of Palo Alto, California, the wannabe electric car manufacturer whose Model S goes on sale in July, has taken the name of the Croatian immigrant. Tesla Motors must be hoping that sales of its new battery-powered sports cars have more of an impact on car buyers than Nikola’s career did on the history books.
Nikola Tesla worked as an assistant to electric light bulb inventor, the legendary Thomas Edison, in the 1880s. Tesla produced crucial insights into the use and transmission of electricity including the alternating current system which has made domestic electric motors ubiquitous, but his important role has not been recognized by historians. This reporter, for instance, only heard about Tesla’s great achievements in a BBC TV programme about the history of electricity a couple of days ago.
Tesla Motors has been in trouble this week after two high-ranking engineers left the company. Tesla shares dived almost 20 per cent after the news, but then rallied back over 16 per cent when investors were reassured that the departure of the engineers wouldn’t hurt the company’s development.
Investment bankers weren’t troubled by the departures.
“Tesla’s core competences have not been meaningfully affected,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Dan Galves.
“It’s important to note that Tesla now has a relatively large and competent automotive engineering organization,” Galves said.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas also felt that although the departures weren’t welcome, they wouldn’t hurt the launch of the S, which has already been signed off as a fully engineered vehicle.
The Tesla S goes on sale soon priced between $57,400 and $92,400. The S looked beautiful on the stand at the Detroit Auto Show and has supercar performance. But one important question mark remains to be resolved; what will the car’s range be if it is driven like a sports car, using the acceleration and high speed cruising ability? The company claims a range of 160 miles for the basic $57,400 (before federal tax credit of $7,500) model. This can be almost doubled to 300 miles at the cost of more batteries costing $20,000, or a 230 mile option costing an extra $10,000.
Investors will have been reassured of the technical ability of Tesla’s hardware because it has sold battery packs and chargers to Daimler of Germany for its Smart and A class electric vehicles, and electric power-train systems to Toyota of Japan for its RAV4 EV. Daimler also has a 7.2 per cent stake in Tesla. There are other models in the pipeline, including the Model X SUV expected to reach the market by the fourth quarter of 2013.
Tesla Motors doesn’t talk about its illustrious but relatively unknown electricity pioneer namesake on its website, or at least it’s not obvious at first glance. Maybe if Model S sales do take off, more people will ”google” Tesla and bring some long overdue recognition to the unknown