Tesla, Inc.

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"2016 Tesla, Inc" Site
Type Automobile & Energy
Launch Date July, 2003
Status Active
Product Line Model S
Model X
Platform Automobile & Energy
Website www.tesla.com

Tesla, Inc. is an automotive and energy storage company co-founded by Elon Musk, Marc Tarpenning, Martin Eberhard, Ian Wright, and JB Straubel. The company is named after the electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla and is based in Palo Alto, California. The company specializes in electric cars, energy charging equipment and is known for its many unique technological features. Upon founding the company in July of 2013, Tesla's founders wanted to prove that electric cars could be better than gasoline-powered cars. Since then, the company has rolled out a unique business plan focused on direct sales, service, and a network of superchargers. Furthermore, the company has a two-part business plan that details objectives of Tesla models priced at three different tiers and developing Tesla's to be autonomous. To date, the company has released 4 different models, Tesla Roadster, Model S, Model X, and the Model 3. Tesla faces ethical concerns regarding the issue of crashes and where to assign responsibility in these crashes, as well as the issue of hacking.

About Tesla


Elon Musk is reported to have expressed a business interest in cars since 1989, [1], with the belief that an electric motor is 'easier, cheaper, and more sensible long-term plan to power cars'. When Musk decided in 2003 Citation:needed to start making electric cars, there were high costs of entry that prevented any startup car company from succeeding. In Silicon Valley, there were people in a small car technology company AC Propulsion [2], that were experimenting and making great bounds Citation:needed in EV breakthroughs. In 2003, a Californian engineer named JB Straubel, got the opportunity to pitch Musk for funding for a car project. After pitching to Musk, Straubel invited him to meet the team at AC Propulsion. Musk was already running SpaceX at the time, but wanted to fund AC Propulsion Citation:needed in bringing one of their prototypes into market. Unfortunately, the people at AC Propulsion were not receptive to the idea. Instead, they introduced Musk to three engineers who also came by the company to present their ideas. Of the three, two were Martin Elberhard and Marc Tarpenning. They wanted to use AC Propulsion's technology and bring it to market as a new company called Tesla Motors but lacked the funding. It was a perfect match, Musk provided the money, allowing them the ability to create a car company.[3]

Tesla was founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard & Marc Tarpenning with co-founders JB Straubel, Ian Wright, & Elon Musk. While Tesla was founded in 2003 Elon Musk was not CEO until October of 2008. Similarly in 2008 Tesla's first car the Tesla Roadster was released. In the 5 years between Tesla creation and the release of their first car they focused in research and development. In recent years Tesla has started other projects, such as solar energy.

Elon Musk Background

Elon Musk [4]

Elon Musk is a South African technology entrepreneur. He was born on June 28, 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa, making him 49 years old as of April 2021 [5]. In 1988 at the age of 17, Musk immigrated to Canada [6]. This was a result of Musk’s unwillingness to support the apartheid by serving in the military. Additionally, he realized there were greater economic opportunities in the United States [7]. Musk went to the University of Pennsylvania for a Bachelor in Arts degree in Economics and Physics. He then went to Stanford University for his Master’s Degree, which he decided to not complete [8].

In 1995, Musk founded Zip2, which provides maps and business directories to online newspapers. Zip2 was bought by Compaq in 1992 for $307 million dollars [9]. In 1999, Elon Musk founded a payments company called X.com, which then merged with Peter Thiel’s company, Confinity [10]. Confinity, similarly to X.com and what would then become PayPal, was a platform that helped consumers transfer money virtually [11]. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion [12]. Right after this, Musk founded SpaceX, which stands for Space Exploration Technologies, in order to make more affordable rockets. This venture stemmed from Musk’s idea that humanity has to be able to survive on other planets in order for life to survive [13]. Musk is the CEO of SpaceX and additionally was the chief designer in building the Falcon rockets, the Dragon, and the Grasshopper (Britannica). In addition, Musk is the CEO of Neuralink, which is developing “ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers” [14]. He also recently founded The Boring Company in 2016, which “combines fast, affordable tunneling technology with an all-electric public transportation system in order to alleviate soul-crushing urban congestion and enable high-speed, long-distance travel” [15].

Musk currently resides in Austin, Texas and has 7 children: Kai, Xavier, Damian, Griffin, Nevada, and X Æ A-Xii [16].

Company Partnerships

Lotus Car

When talking about Tesla it is important to mention the companies that Tesla had a partnership with. In the early years of Tesla, Lotus Car was one of Tesla's most important partnerships. While Tesla founders were interest in electric vehicle, they were not car engineers. To meet their engineering needs Tesla created a partnership with Lotus. Lotus created computer models for Tesla from Lotus' knowledge of sports car. Also noticeable Tesla licensed safety from Lotus. By licensing safety from Lotus Tesla was able to jump in the supply chains that already existed from Lotus. [17]


Tesla also had a six year partnership with Toyota. From this partnership the 2012 RAV4 EV was produced. This electric car was a five passenger sport utility vehicle (SUV). Tesla worked on the electric runnings of the car, such as the battery and motor, and Toyota focused on the styling and body of the car. [18]

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)

Tesla and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) signed an agreement allowing FCA to join an emissions pool with Tesla to meet EU emissions regulations in return for a large sum of cash, believed to be in the range of tens of millions of euros.[19]

Plans For the Future

Business Model

Like any new technology such as the first cell phone or computer, the R&D costs drive up the price of the product. Thus, Tesla had to develop a business plan [20] for the company on how to make, market, and sell their products. As a startup car company, Tesla had to use its money strategically, resulting in a unique approach to getting its first vehicle to market. Instead of building a relatively affordable car for mass production and marketing, Tesla took the opposite approach, focusing instead on creating a compelling car. Musk knew the company wouldn't be capable of building the mass market car they all wanted because they didn't have the economies of scale or a first model to work off. He decided that because their first car was going to be expensive regardless, that building a sports car would yield the most competitiveness with its gas alternatives. Once it established its brand through its first car, the Roadster, Tesla took a three-pronged approach to selling, servicing, and charging its electric vehicles:

  • Direct Sales
    • Create an international network of company-owned showrooms and galleries
    • Owning the sales channel can help Tesla gain an advantage in the speed of its product development
    • Create a better customer buying experience
      • Unlike car dealerships, Tesla showrooms have no conflict of interest
      • Customers deal with Tesla-employed sales and service staffs
  • Service
    • The company believes that opening a service center in a new area corresponds with increased customer demand
    • Combine their direct sales strategy with service centers in their newly expanded retail concept called “Service Plus"
    • Customers can charge or service their vehicles at the service centers or the Service Plus locations
    • Tesla employs Tesla Rangers, mobile technicians who can service vehicles from your house
  • Supercharger Network
    • Create its own network of Supercharger stations where drivers can fully charge their Tesla vehicles for free
    • Building and owning these stations is to accelerate the rate of adoption for electric cars

Master Plan

In 2006, Elon Musk announced to the public that the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors is to society switch to using solar electricity. [21] Thus, to help make this idea a reality, Musk elaborated on a master plan, Part 1 being released in 2006 and Part 2 in 2016, both of which have been condensed below.

Part One

Step 1: High-priced, low volume car for the very rich. First, come out with an expensive and compelling first product that is worth the price. Hence, the Roadster, a legitimate Ferrari competitor that costs over $100,000.

Step 2: Mid-priced, mid-volume car for the rich. Use the profits from Step 1 to develop a Step 2 car. A luxury car that competes with $80,000 Mercedes or BMW products.

Step 3: Low-priced, high-volume car for the general population. Use the profits from Step 2 to develop a car that is affordable to the middle class, around the range of $35,000.

Part Two

With the master plan part one in the final stages of completion, Elon Musk published a "Part Deux" (Two) of his next master plan on July 20, 2016. [22] In short, Musk enumerated on four major points:

  • Create solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major industries
  • Develop autonomous driving capability that is far safer than manual driving via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your Tesla vehicle to make money for you when you aren't using it

Risks and Challenges

Dealership Model Policy

Tesla Motors employs a unique sales mechanism whereby they neither operate local dealership branches nor partner with existing dealerships to sell the company's vehicles. Rather, it operates a number of regional showrooms and "galleries" [23] which are owned and operated by the company itself. The company also sells vehicles directly to customers through its online site.

Various states have prevented Tesla from opening company-owned dealerships and others have restricted direct-to-consumer sales. In some states, laws had to be amended to allow Tesla to sell its vehicles directly to customers. As of the last quarter of 2016, laws amended in at least six states were changed in such a way to allow only Tesla to operate a manufacturer owner dealership model.[24] Tesla won a victory at the end of 2016 in Virginia where it was permitted to operate both as a manufacturer and a dealer of its own vehicles. The business model calls for sales of the vehicles at uniform prices--whether purchased at the Tesla store or online.[25]

Liability and Legal Regulation of Autonomous Vehicles

Every designer and manufacturer of autonomous systems faces the problem of how law at every level -- municipal, state, and federal -- will address concerns around autonomous driving. There are many issues under consideration by policymakers who are responsible for legislation to regulate autonomous vehicles, however the question of liability when autonomous systems fail to safely operate a vehicle is chief among them. At the end of March 2017, a Tesla model X in Phoenix in self-drive autopilot mode that stopped at a traffic light behind a motorcycle police officer began to inch forward bumping the officer's motorcycle, at which point the officer jumped off the motorcycle and backed away. Although no one was injured and there were no damages the incident renewed unsettles legal questions revolving around autonomous and driver-assisted vehicles.[26]

In May of 2016 in Florida, a Tesla model S autopilot system did not recognize a semi turning in front of the car, resulting in the car slamming into the semi and the death of the human driver.[27] The driver was watching a movie at the time and did not override the autopilot system.[28] It was expected that the drivers family will bring a product liability case against Tesla arguing a design defect.[27] Just a few months earlier, a Chinese Tesla driver using the autopilot system was killed in a crash. The court case on that fatality began in China in September 2016, the same month that Tesla issued a major update to its technology.[28] Respected authorities indicate there is potential liability for Tesla and that class actions may potentially be filed by existing Tesla owners who would argue that the potential autopilot system defect reduces the potential value of their cars on resale.[27] The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated the Tesla autopilot system and in January 2017 closed its investigation stating a safety-related defect trend had not been identified. While they identified no hardware or software defect, the National Transportation Safety Board is responsible for finding the exact cause of the crash and are running their own inquiry into the event.[29]

Tesla's founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has stated a belief that worldwide approval of fully autonomous driving systems will necessitate the gathering and processing of data from approximately 6 billion miles of driving with partially autonomous or non-autonomous vehicles. [22] When Musk stated this belief in mid-2016, he added that Tesla is currently collecting data at a rate of 3 million miles each day from its customers' driving. Legal issues arise however when manufacturers collect personally identifiable information from its customers' vehicles. Jessica L. Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission, recognized privacy issues which can result from data sharing.[30] Depending on the type of information that is shared consumer privacy issues can arise. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also acknowledged that removing personally identifiable information of consumers from data collected by manufacturers on their autonomous vehicles will help consumer privacy. According to director Rich, companies should state their information collection and use practices in their privacy policies as required by the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Production Capacity

With Tesla's new Gigafactory in the works, the company expects production rate of 500,000 cars per year towards the end of the decade. As for electricity, by 2018 the Gigafactory is expected to reach full capacity of produce more lithium ion batteries annually than the worldwide production in 2013. [31]

Department of Energy Loan

In 2010 Tesla received a $465 million loan from the department of energy. The loan was repaid fully in 2013, making Tesla the first automotive company to pay the government. [32]



Previous electric vehicles would use lead-acid batteries, which were heavy and limited. AC Propulsion, however, took inspiration from the laptop and phone industry's use of 18650 lithium-ion batteries. By combining several thousand, AA-sized lithium batteries, AC Propulsion created a truly innovative car battery, that far surpasses previous technologies. Tesla continued with augmenting the battery pack, allowing an increase in performance and range. One of the areas where Tesla outshines its competitors is in its packaging and cost of electric batteries. By designing a vehicle from the ground up, Tesla built its entire vehicle around the battery. What resulted was a flat slab that forms the floor of the car, enabling a very large battery without sacrificing interior space.


Autonomous driving is a key feature of Tesla's various models. On October 15, 2015, Tesla released an update over-the-air officially named Tesla Version 7.0, but would later be known as Autopilot. It allowed users to activate a feature in their Tesla that could make the vehicle autonomous under certain conditions. This feature requires infrequent driver intervention in order to safely operate the vehicle, thus the current iteration of Tesla vehicles is considered to satisfy the requirements of Level 3 autonomy.

The technology has been consistently proven to help people avoid accidents. [33] [34] While there is controversy regarding the safety of such technology, Elon Musk said that Autopilot can reduce accidents by as much as 50%.[35]

Tesla's Autopilot system is made up of multiple ultrasonic sensors place all around the car. [36] These sensors can sense 16 feet in every direction which helps the car analyze and understand its environment, allowing it to steer itself in most situations. The sensors enable the vehicle to realize when something is too close and gauge when it is appropriate to safely change lanes. In addition, there is a forward-facing camera located on the top windshield that helps the car understand what obstacles are in front of the car. It can detect traffic, pedestrians, road signs, and many other things. The camera, radar, ultrasonic sensors and GPS all work together to constantly provide real-time feedback from the Tesla fleet. Over-the-air updates are used to continually improve the system and add new features to the Autopilot system This data is then used to improve the overall system.

Current Models


While the Roadster is also a Tesla model, the only models in production currently are the S and X, and the model, 3. Tesla plans to release the model Y in late 2018. The model S, nicknamed the Whitestar while under production, was designed by Franz von Holzhausen and released in 2012. The model S is a 4 door full-sized all-electric five-door, sedan with a rear wheel or dual motor power train. The Tesla Model S was the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year, Automobile magazine's 2013 Car of the Year. [37] One of the main features that was never seen before in any other car was the touchscreen. Tesla placed nearly all vehicle controls and function in this huge control center. In fact, the touchscreen was developed before the first iPad came out. Two other new features that didn't exist before were "Ludicrous Mode" speed, which on the high-performance P100D goes 0-60 mph acceleration in 2.5 seconds and Autopilot which allowed autonomous driving.

The next model, The Tesla Model X was released as an SUV variant to the Model S. The most notable feature has to be the "falcon wing" doors which are exclusive to the Model X. The Tesla Model X also introduced a Bioweapon Defense Mode in which the Model X switches from normally filtered air to a hospital-grade-atmosphere inside. As with all Tesla Models, the Tesla Model X has a 5 star safety rating making it one of the safest vehicles on the market. The Model X allows for 7 seats and can go 289 miles on a single charge.

The most current model, The Tesla Model 3 fulfills Elon Musk's vision for a low cost electric vehicle available to the general public. While perhaps the most anticipated vehicle they have released to date with nearly half a million preorders, the Tesla Model 3 comes in two options, a $35,000 base model which goes 0 to 60 in a time of 5.6 seconds and goes 220 miles on a single charge. The $44,000 option goes 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds, with a top speed of 140 MPH and boasts the largest range of any electric vehicle available to the general public.


Tesla is now planning to move to an only online system in order to reduce to cost for consumers. The retail stores will be closing in the future. In addition, due to Elon Musk’s choice to move to only an online platform, the ways in which customers go about returning a car they are not satisfied with is different. In order to keep customer satisfaction high, Tesla has stated that if a customer is unhappy with their purchase they can return it within 7 days or 1,000 miles and receive a full refund [38].


On April 13, 2017, CEO Elon Musk announced the arrival of a Tesla cargo truck, aimed at expanding their role in electric vehicles into the cargo transport market [39].

Alternative Energy

In June 2013 Tesla made a billion dollar offer to buy SolarCity, a solar energy company. Tesla motive for this was to create "a seamlessly integrated Tesla battery & solar power product that looks beautiful" [40]. On August 1, 2016, SolarCity accepted Tesla Motors' offer.

Ethical Implications


An issue surrounding autonomous cars involves figuring out how responsibility will be handled in crashes. With Tesla's "autopilot" feature becoming street-legal, the topic has become even more important.

On May 7, 2016, Joshua Brown was killed in an accident while driving in his Tesla "Model S". Brown's vehicle was in autopilot mode when a white tractor-trailer merged left onto the highway[41]. The Autopilot system was unable to detect the tractor-trailer, causing vehicles to collide. In a blog post titled "A Tragic Loss" the Tesla Team stated "Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied." Throughout the duration of the blog post, Tesla reiterated that drivers are made well aware that the technology is only in a "public beta phase" and are still responsible for the control of their own vehicle[42]. W. Kip Viscusi, a product liability scholar from Vanderbilt Law School contested Tesla's point stating "A reasonable consumer might expect [autopilot] to work better, that you wouldn't be crashing into a semi that crossed the highway."[41]

On March 23, 2018, Walter Huang was killed in an automobile accident while occupying his Tesla Model X[43]. The vehicle was in autopilot mode at the time of the crash. Huang's family is seeking to take legal action against Tesla and believe that the autopilot system is defective and at fault for the crash. Tesla has claimed that their system did not fail and that the driver was responsible for the crash. They claim that the vehicle logs suggest that Huang's Hands were detected off the wheel 6 seconds before the crash, and that he had 5 seconds and 150 meters of vision to detect the object in the way. They also claim that the crash attenuator on the highway was previously damaged in another accident, and that was the reason for the severity of the crash. This crash is the third known fatal accident to occur in a Tesla vehicle while autopilot was engaged. The case is currently ongoing.

Case Update

A Tweet from Elon Musk on April 2, 2018.

On April 11, 2018, Tesla officially exited an agreement previously held with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) [44]. Under the agreement, Tesla was working with the NTSB to investigate the crash and therefore could not release information that they had found. In retaliation to Tesla's move to exit the agreement, which gives Tesla the opportunity to share investigation findings, the NTSB released a statement on April 12th removing Tesla from the investigation [45]. Tesla still remains a part of the investigation party of two other ongoing cases relating to Tesla crashes. The disagreements in the investigation arise from differences in opinion on the timeline of making information public, with Tesla making a statement a week after the accident that the driver was at fault [46].


In 2015, researchers Kevin Maheffy and Marc Rogers revealed that they were able to hack into the Model S car through its entertainment system. [47] Maheffy and Rogers spent roughly one year uncovering the Model S's vulnerabilities, and ultimately discovered a way to manipulate the car's locks, control the radio, activate its emergency breaks, and start its engine. A similar incident had occurred a month earlier when Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million Jeeps after researchers uncovered a bug that allowed them to remotely hack into the Chrysler cars through a wireless connection. [48] [49] However, unlike the Chrysler vulnerability, Maheffy and Rogers could not hack into the Model S without having physical access to the car itself, leading Maheffy to state that he feels "more secure driving a Model S than any other connected car on the road".[50] However, a vulnerability in Apple's WebKit could potentially allow for remote hacking by tricking a user into downloading malicious software from within the car. Following these discoveries, Maheffy and Rogers worked with Tesla to fix the vulnerabilities, and Tesla issued a patch to update the Model S's software on the same day that the researchers revealed their discoveries to the world. [51]

Though Tesla implemented security patches to remedy these exploits, vulnerabilities with Tesla's API (Application Programming Interface) are exploitable because their undocumented API is open source. [52] Teslas constantly connect to the internet, even when the car is not running. Smartphone users can use the Tesla mobile application to connect to the car to gain insights about the car such as mileage, internal temperature, percent charged as well as many other metrics. The mobile application also allows users to set car functions and control the car's headlights, unlock the car, start the engine, as well as honk the horn. [53] The Tesla mobile application connects to Tesla's API to extract information and control a given car based on an account username and password. If a Tesla owner's account is compromised, an attacker can connect to their car. If this were to occur, an adversary would be able to monitor a car as well as execute arbitrary commands that may put an owner's well-being at risk.


Accidents involving Tesla's autopilot feature have led to contention surrounding driver responsibility during autonomous operation. It is argued that the driver should be to blame, since customers agree to the company's standard agreement to monitor the road at all times before purchasing the vehicle, including circumstances where the vehicle cannot make proper decisions. Tesla also labels its technology as being in the beta stage of development, meaning it is still undergoing testing and is not finalized [54]. Opponents argue that just because customers agreed to monitor the road at all times does not mean they should bear all the responsibility. Since the technology is still in beta, they claim that Tesla is using its customers as guinea pigs and putting them in danger on public roads without a finalized product. They also argue that customers are not fully informed of the risks when they sign the standard agreements, and thus are not aware of the car's technological limitations. [55]

The debate surrounding whether or not companies should be permitted to beta-test autonomous driving technology on public roads has been ongoing before Tesla's Autopilot. Even if the user consented to the testing, other drivers and pedestrians around the car have not, yet they are still at risk. This comparison likens beta-testing on public roads to human-subjects research, which is usually governed by an ethics board. As of 2016, Tesla does not have an ethics board. However, most states turn a blind eye to the issue as they focus more on the innovation and the economic benefits of technology. Consequently, there are few incentives for companies to stop beta-testing automated cars.

Another issue about responsibility is informed consent. It is questionable whether beta-testers for Tesla cars know about the risks involved such as death. While drivers using Tesla's Autopilot feature could be likened to pilots monitoring their airplane's auto-pilot system, the situation is different— Pilots are trained professionally, and they usually have a co-pilot as a backup. Drivers are only required to pass a driving test before they can start driving. Skepticism stems from this debate on the ability of drivers to handle such situations that involve quick hand-offs from autonomous to human control. Moreover, individuals may not have knowledge of the technological jargon and background pertinent to autonomous vehicles, leaving them more vulnerable to being uninformed.


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  44. Tesla Withdraws From NTSB Fatal Model X Crash Investigation http://fortune.com/2018/04/12/tesla-withdraws-ntsb-fatal-model-x-crash-investigation/
  45. NTSB Statement https://www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/NR20180412.aspx
  46. Tesla's Wild Fight With the Feds Investigating its Autopilot Death https://www.wired.com/story/tesla-autopilot-investigation-ntsb-crash/
  47. Researchers Hack a Tesla Model S, Bring Car to a Stop http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hy-tesla-hack-20150806-story.html
  48. After Jeep Hack, Chrysler Recalls 1.4M Vehicles for Bug Fix https://www.wired.com/2015/07/jeep-hack-chrysler-recalls-1-4m-vehicles-bug-fix/
  49. Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It https://www.wired.com/2015/07/hackers-remotely-kill-jeep-highway/
  50. The new assembly line: 3 best practices for building (secure) connected cars https://blog.lookout.com/blog/2015/08/06/tesla-research/
  51. Researchers Hacked a Model S, But Tesla’s Already Released a Patch https://www.wired.com/2015/08/researchers-hacked-model-s-teslas-already/
  52. Tesla Model S JSON API http://docs.timdorr.apiary.io
  53. Google Play: Tesla Motors https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.teslamotors.tesla&hl=en
  54. Who's responsible when an autopilot car crashes? http://www.nwahomepage.com/news/whos-responsible-when-an-autopilot-car-crashes
  55. Is Tesla Responsible for the Deadly Crash On Auto-Pilot? Maybe. https://www.forbes.com/sites/patricklin/2016/07/01/is-tesla-responsible-for-the-deadly-crash-on-auto-pilot-maybe/#bf9fed31c070