Friday, March 16, 2007

My interview with Tesla Motors CEO

As promised, my interview with Martin Eberhard, CEO of Tesla Motors, ran in this week's Michigan Business Review. Eberhard is out to create nothing less than the next Great American Car Company. He just might do it, too. Here's the intro to the Q&A-style interview.

Martin Eberhard believes in the innate desire of that unique and peculiar animal - the American automobile driver - to do the right thing and own a vehicle that does not contribute to global warming and deplete natural resources.

But Eberhard also knows that the history of the past 30 years has revealed another inherent truth about the U.S. species of car consumer: The "doing the right thing" instinct is almost always subordinated to an even stronger natural urge... to own a really cool ride.

Enter Tesla Motors Inc. - Eberhard's luxury electric-car company that he co-founded to reconcile this "id vs. superego" war over hearts and minds of automobile consumers. Eberhard believes that his company is here to provide some much needed therapy for this era of bad feelings over the pollution produced, energy wasted - and not to mention jobs lost - in the U.S. auto industry. And he's doing his part on the jobs front, too, as his growing company is poised to open up an engineering center in Rochester Hills and hire about 60 engineers.

The Rochester Hills staff will work on what's next after the much-publicized Tesla $90,000 roadster. Right now, it's code-named Project White Star. And while this next all-electric vehicle will not exactly make it affordable for everybody to do the right thing - this one will set you back about $50,000 - it is a step in the right direction toward Eberhard's ultimate goal: creation of the next great American car company. And he wants to get there before the old fossil fuel museum pieces wheeze out their last.

Oakland Business Review technology and manufacturing reporter Howard Lovy caught up with Eberhard recently and talked to him about the Rochester Hills plant, along with subjects ranging from the skills workers need to the "ethanol economy" to the challenges of almost literally reinventing the wheel. Here's an edited transcript of their discussion. More here

Who's driving the revolution?

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