Inventor Nikolai Tesla was more famous than his rival, Thomas Edison, in the 1890s, but he died in poverty and his name was relegated to near obscurity in school history books. As the man who gave us fluorescent lighting, the Tesla coil, the Tesla induction motor, three-phase electricity, the alternating current (AC) electric supply system and the radio (he had earlier patents than Marconi that were recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943), Tesla’s inventions had a huge impact on industry and technology, and society. Electric car company Tesla plans to do the same.
Tesla, which was founded by five Silicon Valley engineers including Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, was incorporated on July 1, 2003, utilizes Nikolai Tesla’s induction motor in its cars. Tesla engineers designed a power train around Tesla’s motor and introduced the company’s first car, the Tesla Roadster, in 2008. One-hundred twenty years after the motor was patented, it was being used to help Tesla achieve its vision of “sustainable transport”–vehicles that didn’t rely on gasoline.
Elon Musk, co-founder of Zip2 and Paypal and founder of SpaceX, participated in Tesla’s first round of funding and became the company’s Chairman of the Board of Directors. Eventually, Eberhard and Tarpenning were out and Musk was running the show. Under his guidance and leadership, Tesla has come to be viewed as one of the most innovative companies in the world.
The story behind Tesla Motors logo is not well known. The most reasonable theory suggests the logo is a cross between the letter ‘T’ and possibly the shape of a Tesla coil, Nikola Tesla’s most well-known invention.
Musk has continued the three-step business model first espoused by Eberhard, which starts with getting an electric car to mass market by first marketing it to rich people. As momentum builds and more people want it, production increases. Increased production drives down manufacturing costs. Lower costs mean a lower price tag on the car, which, in turn, leads to more sales. With this plan, the Tesla Roadster had a high price and low sales volume; the Tesla S is mid-priced and has mid sales volume; and the Tesla X or 3, depending on what actually rolls out, should be low priced and high volume.
Tesla, like the man the company was named after, is an innovator. Due in large part to Musk’s guidance, the car company has become more than just a company that sells cars. As Forbes stated in 2014, “Tesla is less about a car than it is about a revolution; it’s a true disruptor in a category of incremental-ism and boredom.” The company knows about brand engagement. It’s managed to weather the storm (three car fires in the Model S) and ride the waves (Consumer Reports raved about both the brand and the Model S) by personally engaging its fans, especially through social media platforms like Twitter.
Tesla’s showrooms, which usually only hold one car, are an experience akin to visiting an Apple store.