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A brief look at Tesla’s history

Some facts you might not know
PHOTO: TopGear.com

What is Tesla and when did it start making cars?

Elon Musk did not found Tesla. How about that? In fact, Tesla Motors Inc.—now simply Tesla Inc.—was founded on July 1, 2003 in Palo Alto, California, by American engineers and entrepreneurs Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Eberhard was the company’s first CEO, appointed by chairman of the board, one Elon Musk. Musk supplied almost all the funding to get the company off the ground, after the founders were inspired by GM scrapping its EV1 electric car program.

Tesla didn’t build its first car in 2003, though, or in 2004. In fact, no new car wore the Tesla badge until the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster arrived in 2008. Its first bespoke car, the Model S sedan, finally went into production in summer 2012.

Where are Teslas built, and how many are built in a year?


Tesla has massively increased its productions numbers in the last decade. Since 2010, its main facility has been the ex-GM Fremont factory in California, where more 10,000 people assemble the Model S, the Model X, the Model 3, and the Model Y, though the latter is intended to be mainly robot-built. Its batteries are made in a vast facility known as the ‘Gigafactory’ in Nevada. Batteries and Model 3/Y drivetrains are sent by train from the Gigafactory to Fremont. Sixty percent of Tesla parts are sourced within the US, and Tesla makes a large amount of its own parts, rather than sourcing them in from contractors.

In 2019, Tesla built 365,300 vehicles. Its rapid expansion has been propelled latterly by fulfilling orders of the Model 3—the smallest, cheapest car that Tesla currently offers. This marked a 50% on 2018’s delivery numbers, with the Model 3 becoming the world’s best-selling plug-in car. In March 2020, Tesla announced it had produced its one millionth car: a red Model Y, with black wheels. Pre-coronavirus, the company had said it was targeting half a million units shifted in 2020.

What cars does Tesla build?

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Since the Tesla Roadster was killed off 2012, the brand’s range has grown from simply the Model S sedan to be, well, S3XY. Seriously, The lineup swelled with the Model X large SUV, the Model 3 small sedan, and the Model Y crossover. See, S3XY. Tesla has intended to brand its 3 Series-sized sedan ‘Model E,’ but Ford protested, as it still held the copyright to that name, even though it hasn’t used it in decades.

Tesla has also promised a new Roadster supercar, the bizarre Cybertruck pickup, an electric quad-bike, and the Semi electric truck, all of which are yet to be delivered.

What’s the cheapest car Tesla builds...and what’s the most expensive it has ever built?

As mentioned, the cheapest car Tesla will sell you at the moment is the Model 3. Its Standard Range Plus Rear-Wheel Drive variant starts at £40,490 (P2.51 million) in the UK, but that’ll drop when the government’s plug-in grant is applied.


The priciest Tesla currently sold is the ‘falcon’-doored Model X. The quicker Performance model costs a whopping £97,980 (P6.07 million)—around £5,000 (P310,000) more than the equivalent Model S sedan.

Mind you, back in 2014, Tesla offered a battery upgrade for the aging Roadster, based on the Roadster 2.5 Sport that retailed for $125,800 (P6.3 million). This upped the battery capacity from 53kWh to 80kWh, but cost a further $29,000 (P1.45 million. So, at $157,500 (P7.9 million in 2020 exchange rates) the run-out Roadster is the priciest Tesla yet—though the successor version, which promises a 966km range and 402kph top speed, is set to cost at least $250,000 (P12.5 million)...

What’s the fastest car Tesla builds?

Tesla doesn’t really build a slow car, in fact. Tesla’s fastest car right now is, in many senses, its oldest: the Model S. The top-spec Model S Performance claims to achieve 0-60mph (97kph) in a Bugatti-busting 2.4sec, though its top speed is a comparatively modest 261kph. Still, that’s probably adequate, right?

What’s been Tesla’s best moment?

Tesla’s had a meteoric rise to prominence in the past few years, and there’ve been plenty of high points. The opening of the Gigafactory. The Model S outselling the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 7-Series, and the Audi A8 put together in the USA back in 2014. Perhaps its most triumphant moment was the reveal of the Model 3 at Fremont on March 2016. The scene was one of hysteria—Beatlemania for cars. Within 24 hours of opening orders, 180,000 deposits had been taken. After two days, this had risen to 273,000 orders, and the list kept climbing, past 373,000 in May 2016. The Model 3 now holds the record for the fastest-selling car of all time, beating the likes of the seminal Ford Mustang.


What’s been Tesla’s worst moment?

Well, we ought to separate Tesla’s growing pains from the mistakes of its enigmatic and haphazard boss, Elon Musk. Musk has, on plenty of occasions, rather let his company down with poor choices on social media. For Tesla itself, its darkest hour was probably what Musk called ‘production hell’ following the massive response to the Model 3. Tesla massively misjudged how quickly it could ramp up production of the cars, aiming to make 5,000 examples a week by the end of 2017, but in fact building 2,425 in the three months to the end of 2017. In desperation, a tent was built outside the factory to extend the production line, but the Model 3 didn’t start to ship in substantial numbers until the end of 2018, with many buyers complaining of quality control problems in the early cars online.

What’s been Tesla’s weirdest moment?

There’s a Tesla in space. Besides the Apollo mission buggies left by NASA on the moon, the Tesla Roadster currently floating around the cosmos is the only human-driven car in space. And it’s never coming home. The Roadster was blasted into space as the payload for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, as part of the test program for the launch vehicle of Elon Musk’s space-transport company back in February 2018. It’s carrying a dummy wearing a spacesuit dubbed ‘StarMan,’ and the stereo has been set to play David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ into the endless void for all eternity. Or until the battery gives out.

What’s the best concept car Tesla has built?


Tesla doesn’t tend to do out-and-out concept cars. You could argue that its production models exhibit plenty of the features that less brave carmakers stick on their concepts, then bin for production—like the Model 3’s button-free interior, or the Model X’s electric falcon doors. However, Tesla does have a habit of revealing a car, then making plenty of tweaks in the intervening couple of years before it actually goes into production. The Model S was one such vehicle, and the latest example is the Cybertruck. The angular steel body is like nothing we’ve ever seen on a road car before, but Tesla insists it will pass the pedestrian safety and crash testing regulations it needs to. We’re watching with interest to see how much of this actually becomes reality for the fans who’ve gleefully put down a $100 (P5,000) deposit...

Tell me an interesting fact about Tesla.

Where does the name ‘Tesla,’ come from, you might be wondering. Why is the world’s favorite EV maker not ‘Musk Motors’? Well, it’s a tribute to the 19th-century Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla, who developed an induction motor that ran on a new electrical system he’d designed: alternating current (AC). This could be produced by the ‘Tesla coil’ transformer circuit he developed in 1891.

NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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