Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning Revisit the Early Days of Tesla, Elon Musk

The men who founded Tesla: Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning 1 photo
Photo: CNBC
These days, Elon Musk, the acting CEO of Tesla, is so closely associated with the EV maker that he’s often, albeit mistakenly, labeled a founder. According to the two original founders, this is an association Musk himself has invited, for reasons that are a mystery.
Tesla is the world’s highest-valued carmaker, with Musk being the world’s richest man. Financial considerations aside, Tesla is at the forefront of the electric revolution, inspiring change in the industry and showing that, in more ways than one, EVs are a much better alternative than their internal combustion engine counterparts.

Musk is the man responsible for such an admirable achievement, the original founders of Tesla, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, say in an interview with CNBC that you will find in full below. Shot in late 2019 as part of a documentary, it was just published online in full. At nearly 26 minutes, it’s long, but it’s recommended viewing for anyone interested in the early days of Tesla.

Eberhard talks about how he and Tarpenning, an old-time friend, came up with the idea of putting lithium-ion batteries in a car after developing their own e-book reader. Eberhard had just gone through a divorce, so he was itching for a sports car, but Al Gore’s documentary on global warming had put him off the thought of buying an ICE one. Like any good engineer, because he couldn’t find the car of his dreams, he decided to build it.

Elon Musk came into the picture later on, when the duo already had an idea of where they wanted to take Tesla – but before the development of the Roadster. Musk invested millions of his own money into the startup, literally paving the way for the production of the first Roadster prototypes. He was the perfect fit as an investor into an idea that, at the time, seemed crazy to everyone else.

In 2007, Eberhard was “voted off the island” and removed as CEO, and Musk would take over that position after two interim CEOs. To this day, Eberhard would not say what led to the bitter rift for legal reasons, but you can tell he’s still sore about it. He wishes Tesla all the best, though, as does Tarpenning – a most logical thing to say considering they both own stock in the company following their departure. Tarpenning left Tesla as the Model S was going into production to spend time with his family.

One thing neither understands, though, is why Musk would label himself a founder of Tesla.

“He wasn't the founder in the sense of he wasn't [because] we started it,” Tarpenning says. “This is one thing that I found kind of fascinating about him. He's actually accomplished some amazing things in his own right; SpaceX is amazing. And he's done some interesting things with Tesla for sure. But I'm not sure why he has to also say that he was a founder when he wasn't. I don't understand that,” Eberhard adds.

In the end, they both agree that Musk is a “complicated” man: a highly intelligent, risk-taking, very involved visionary. As such, the things he does often result in plenty of collateral damage, Tarpenning explains, hinting this is exactly what he and Eberhard were.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Elena Gorgan
Elena Gorgan profile photo

Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories