Tesla history’s most important moments, from its founders’ launch to bringing EVs mainstream

Tesla history’s most important moments, from its founders’ launch to bringing EVs mainstream

By: Posted: June 23, 2023

Red Tesla Model 3 driving in front of a sunset
Tesla Model 3.

  • Tesla has been a public company since seven years after its founding. 
  • Tesla closed out its first day of trading 13 years ago with a market cap of $2.22 billion.
  • The carmaker put electric cars on the map. 

Since the Tesla IPO in June of 2010, Elon Musk’s electric-car company has contended with high highs and low lows. And through all the twists and turns, Tesla managed to put electric vehicles on the map and become the most valuable car company on the planet. 

Tesla’s journey from fledgling startup to EV juggernaut hasn’t always been smooth sailing. While the company has notched plenty of achievements, it’s also experienced its fair share of setbacks. 

Here’s a breakdown of the company’s most defining moments since its founding. 

2003

Martin Eberhard
Martin Eberhard.

In July, Tesla Motors is founded by a group of Silicon Valley engineers. While Elon Musk, Tesla’s current CEO, has led Tesla for the majority of its existence, he wasn’t always at the helm of the company. 

Tesla, named after the famous physicist Nikola Tesla, was incorporated in 2003 by two engineers, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Later co-founders included JB Straubel, Ian Wright, and Musk. 

Eberhard served as CEO until August 2007, and left the company shortly thereafter.

 

2004

Elon Musk, the Chairman of the Board of Tesla Motors, kneeling in front of two black Teslas.
Musk in 2006.

In February, Musk led the company’s Series A funding round in 2004, contributing $6.5 million and joining Tesla’s board as chairman. 

2006

In August, Musk published a blog post entitled “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)” in which he laid out Tesla’s long-term mission: to help transition the world away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. 

“Some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars. This is because the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.” 

2007

ze'ev drori
Ze’ev Drori.

In November, Tesla announced Ze’ev Drori would take the helm at Tesla at the end of November. An Israeli engineer and tech veteran, Drori was tasked with bringing Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, to market by the first quarter of 2008. 

 

2008

Elon Musk looking at the first Tesla Roadster
The Tesla Roadster.

In February, Tesla’s first Roadster was delivered.

Drori managed to bring the Roadster into production on time and the first vehicle was delivered to Musk, who was serving as the company’s chairman at the time. 

To celebrate the occasion, Musk jumped in the Roadster and led four other prototype Roadsters packed with engineers down Highway 101 and University Avenue in Palo Alto, California. 

By mid-March, the company had met its goal of getting regular production of the Roadster up and running. 

At the time, Drori referred to the event as a “milestone for the company and a watershed for the new era of electric vehicles.”

Tesla produced the Roadster, which priced at $109,000, until January 2012 and in total sold 2,450 of them.

By October, Tesla was feeling pressure created by the financial crisis. 

“The global financial system has gone through the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and the effects are only beginning to wind their way through every facet of the economy. It’s not an understatement to say that nearly every business will be impacted by what has unfolded in the past weeks, and this is true for Silicon Valley as well,” Musk said at the time.

Musk announced he would be taking over the company and that there would be layoffs. He also pushed the launch date of the Model S sedan, Tesla’s next vehicle, from 2010 to mid-2011. 

By November, the company’s financial situation had worsened and Tesla was on the brink of bankruptcy. 

To help restore Tesla’s coffers and speed up Roadster production, the company’s board of directors approved $40 million in convertible debt financing.

“Even then, we only narrowly survived…We actually closed the financing round on Christmas Eve 2008. It was the last hour of the last day that it was possible,” Musk said in 2015. 

2009

Elon Musk speaking into a microphone in front of a silver Tesla Model S
Musk and the Model S.

Tesla unveiled its second car, the Model S, in March 2009 in Hawthorne, California at the SpaceX headquarters.  

By May 12, 2009, Tesla had already surpassed 1,000 reservations for the Model S.   

The $40 million in financing helped get Tesla through its darkest hour, but the company needed more resources to further develop its battery technology. 

Tesla and Daimler had already been in partnership for about a year working on an electric Smartcar. But by May, Daimler made a long-term bet on Tesla by taking a 10 percent stake in the company. The two companies agreed to work together on developing battery and electric drive systems.

In June 2009, Tesla also received a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy, which it repaid by May 2013. 

2010

Elon Musk pumping his fist in front of a crowd of people after ringing the opening bell at NASDAQ in celebration of the company's IPO
CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk waves after ringing the opening bell at the NASDAQ market in celebration of his company’s initial public offering in New York June 29, 2010.

Tesla goes public. Tesla offered 13.3 million shares at $17 per share. The company raised $226.1 million. 

Shares closed at $23.89, valuing Tesla at $2.2 billion. 

2011

In October 2011, Tesla showed off a near-production version of the Model S to about 3,000 early reservation holders. 

Musk revealed that the vehicle would get 320 miles per charge and go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. 

“The oil companies said electric cars can’t work, but the truth is, they don’t want them to work. But here it is. They would say this car is the equivalent of a unicorn. Well, tonight you had the opportunity to ride a unicorn,” Musk said at the event.

 

2012

A white Tesla Model X seen with the falcon-wing doors open at the Detroit auto show
The Model X.

Just a few months later, Musk unveiled a Model X prototype, the company’s first SUV. 

The vehicle’s most novel feature was its falcon-wing doors. By February 2012, the company had amassed advance sales of more than $40 million. 

At the time of its reveal, Tesla aimed to have the Model X in production by 2014. However, it wouldn’t actually enter production until the end of 2015. 

In a major milestone, Tesla started delivering the Model S to customers in June 2012.

The first Model S off the production line went to none other than venture capitalist and Tesla board member Steve Jurvetson, complete with a telltale personalized “TSLA S1” California license plate. 

Jurvetson stunned an early 2009 Tesla board meeting by pulling a blank check from his wallet and filling it out on the spot to reserve the very first Model S to come off the line.

Doing so, he even beat Tesla CEO Elon Musk to the punch. Musk drives the first production Tesla Roadster, but he is apparently relegated to Model S # 002

 

2014

aerial view of tesla gigafactory

Tesla announced its plans to build its giant battery factory, dubbed the Tesla Gigafactory, in February 2014 and ultimately decided to built it in Sparks, Nevada. 

The original site was 1,000 acres, but in June 2015 the company purchased an additional 1,864 acres of adjacent land.

April 2015

Tesla Powerwall
The “Powerwall.”

Tesla reveals the Powerwall, a giant rechargeable battery for your home, and its Powerpack, a battery for commercial use.

Tesla made a big push into energy when it unveiled the Powerpack and Powerwall at an event in Hawthorne, California in 2015.

Musk said that batteries were the “missing piece” of Tesla’s business model and claimed that 160 million Powerpacks could power the United States.

The company followed up in a statement on its website declaring that “Tesla is not just an automotive company it’s an energy innovation company.”

September 2015

Tesla had originally planned to launch its Model X SUV in late 2013 or early 2014, but production delays forced the company to push back deliveries by almost two years. 

The vehicle’s highly-specialized features, like its signature doors made it complicated to manufacture on a mass scale. 

October 2015

Tesla Autopilot
Autopilot.

Tesla began rolling a software update that activated its new advance driver-assistance system, Autopilot. Since late 2014, Tesla had included the necessary radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors to make Autopilot work. 

With Autopilot switched on, a Model S could automatically stay centered in its lane and brake and accelerate to keep up with traffic. These remain the basic functions of Autopilot. 

 

March 2016

Silver Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3

Musk unveiled the much-anticipated Model 3 on March 31, 2016. 

He announced that the car would get 215 miles or more per charge and go from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. Tesla planed a starting price of $35,000, though that price point was never widely available. 

May 2016

A smashed black Tesla that was involved in the first Tesla autopilot fatality

The first fatal Autopilot accident occurred in May 2016, but word didn’t get out about the incident until more than a month later. 

On June 30, government regulators revealed they were looking into a tie between the fatal accident and Tesla’s Autopilot feature. Tesla issued a statement calling the incident a “tragic loss.”

According to Tesla’s statement, the Model S was driving down a divided highway when a tractor-trailer cut across the highway perpendicular to the vehicle. 

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S,” Tesla said. 

June 2016

The company made a $2.6 billion bid to acquire SolarCity, a solar installation company run by Musk’s cousin. 

Not surprisingly, the SolarCity deal was controversial from the start, primarily because SolarCity was about $3 billion in debt and the deal was seen as a bailout. 

Further complicating the matter, Musk was also the chairman of the company. 

July 2016

In 2016, Musk revealed the second part of the Tesla master plan, which outlined four key goals: 

1. Develop “stunning” solar roofs that seamlessly integrate with Tesla’s battery storage.

2. Roll out more affordable vehicles “to address all major segments.”

3. Advance its self-driving technology so that it is “ten times safer” than manual driving. 

4. Roll out a car-sharing program that enables Tesla owners to make money by renting out their autonomous car. 

Over the years, Musk has repeatedly touted Tesla’s plans for self-driving vehicles that can earn their owners passive income. But this robotaxi vision is still a long way off. 

November 2016

Musk made it clear in early 2016 that automation was the future for Tesla. 

During a shareholder meeting in June, Musk said that he saw a huge opportunity in “building the machine that makes the machine.” 

So it wasn’t all that surprising when Tesla announced it was buying Grohmann Engineering, a German firm that specializes in designing systems for manufacturing automation. 

Tesla also closed its Tesla-SolarCity deal in November 2016.

Some Tesla shareholders alleged that the deal amounted to a bailout that unfairly enriched Musk’s family, sparking off a lengthy legal battle. Musk won the case in April.  

February 2017

Elon Musk speaking to a group in front of a new Tesla logo
Musk and the new Tesla logo

In 2017, the automaker dropped the “motors” from its name in a move meant to reflect the fact that Tesla no longer just sold cars. 

 

July 2017

A blue Tesla Model 3 driving with a mountain in the background
The Model 3.

Tesla held its Model 3 launch in July 2017.  The first cars went to Musk and Tesla employees. 

Getting the Model 3 — a more affordable, mass-produced vehicle — to market was crucial for Tesla to grow its reach to become profitable. What ensued was months of “Tesla production hell” as Tesla ramped up output to thousands of cars per week. 

November 2017

A head-on view of a red Tesla Semi
The Semi.

At an event at Tesla’s Hawthorne, California, facility, the automaker showed off its Semi truck concept. With a center-mounted seat, the Tesla truck promised a range of 500 miles and a 400-mile range after 30 minutes of charging. Musk even claimed it would have self-driving capabilities, The Verge reported.

The Semi has been delayed multiple times, but Tesla now says it will go into production in 2023. 

At the Tesla Semi’s unveiling, the company also took the opportunity to tease another future product: the new Roadster

Tesla claimed the $200,000 sports car would hit 60 mph in just 1.9 seconds. After delays, it’s set to go into production in 2023. 

February 2018

Elon Musk's red Tesla Roadster manned by a Starman dummy wearing a SpaceX suit, seen in space with the Earth in the background

In February 2018, the rocket company SpaceX, another Musk venture, launched its founder’s Tesla Roadster into space during a test launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket. A dummy dubbed “Starman,” wearing a SpaceX spacesuit, was strapped into the driver’s seat.  

The car is currently orbiting the Sun. 

August 2018

Musk tweeted that he is “considering taking Tesla private at $420″ a share.

He also said that he’d “secured” funding. The tweet would kick off an SEC investigation into Musk’s tweeting habit. 

September 2018

The SEC charged Musk with making “false and misleading statements” about taking Tesla private.

The SEC accused Musk of misleading the public, claiming that he knew he didn’t have a deal to take Tesla private. Eventually, the two settled. 

Musk had to step down as the chairman of Tesla’s board of directors. Both he and Tesla were fined $20 million. The agreement stipulated that, going forward, Tesla lawyers needed to approve any of Musk’s tweets containing material information about the company. 

March 2019

A blue Tesla Model Y driving on the open road
Tesla Model Y

The automaker unveiled the Tesla Model Y, its fourth vehicle. Tesla said the Model Y would be able to travel 300 miles on a charge and seat seven people. 

October 2019

Tesla became the first western automaker to own a factory in China without a joint venture. 

The factory, located in Shanghai, would help Tesla better supply the world’s largest car market with its most popular vehicle, the Model 3. 

November 2019

Elon Musk speaking in front of the first Cybertruck, which had a cracked window after a demonstration of how  strong the glass is
Tesla Cybertruck

Musk unveiled the Cybertruck at an event on November 21, 2019. Tesla said the radically designed truck would be able to tow 14,000 pounds and travel 500 miles on a single charge.

All did not go off without a hitch, though, as a demonstration meant to show the strength of the “armored” glass used in the Tesla truck left two huge cracks in it. 

The Cybertruck was supposed to be on sale already. Now Tesla says it’ll hit streets in 2023. It’s been beat to market by electric pickups from Ford, General Motors, and Rivian Automotive. 

2020

In March, Tesla started delivering the Model Y SUV to customers just as the global pandemic hit the US.

In June, he Tesla Model S Long Range Plus achieved an EPA-rated range of 402 miles, making it the first EV to do so. The company achieved this through cutting down on weight and maximizing regenerative braking.

The Model S has since been beat by the Air, a sedan from the California startup Lucid Motors. But the Model S is still one of the longest-range electric cars you can buy today. 

In July after burning through cash for years, Tesla hit its stride and started turning a consistent profit. The feat teed it up for being added to the S&P 500 index later that year. 

In December, Tesla delivered 499,550 vehicles in 2020, just shy of its goal of half a million units. 

 

2021

A red Tesla Model S Plaid sedan driving in the desert
Tesla Model S Plaid.

Amid a cryptocurrency gold rush, Tesla bought bitcoin worth $1.5 billion in January of 2021. It said it planned to accept the currency as a payment for Tesla cars, but that didn’t last long. 

The value of bitcoin has plummeted in recent months, meaning Tesla’s crypto bet is likely under water. 

Tesla had announced the Model S Plaid at an event in September 2020. And by June of 2021, started shipping it to customers. 

Tesla’s fastest car and most powerful vehicle ever, the Plaid has three motors that propel it to 60 mph in a claimed 1.99 seconds.

The Plaid cost is now at $135,990. 

Tesla’s share price skyrocketed for the better part of 2020 and 2021 as the company proved its profitability and grew sales. 

In October 2021, as its share price crested $1,000, Tesla’s market cap surged past $1 trillion. It joined powerhouses like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft. 

After announcing the move in October, Tesla headquarters officially moved out of Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas in December 2021. Musk also moved to Texas, where SpaceX’s launch site is. 

2022

A giant silver cowboy boot in the middle of a crowd at the Tesla Giga Texas manufacturing facility during the "Cyber Rodeo" grand opening party
Texas Giga factory

In March after months of bureaucratic delays and environmental protests, Tesla kicked off production at its new factory near Berlin in March. Tesla is building Model Y SUVs there for the European market. 

In April, Tesla opened its Austin, Texas, Gigafactory.

Mere weeks after opening its third vehicle plant in Germany, Tesla opened a fourth, marking the occasion with a “Cyber Rodeo” party. The company makes the Model Y there. It also plans to eventually build the Cybertruck pickup at the sprawling facility. 

In June amid a broader economic downturn, Musk outlined plans to for Tesla layoffs, cutting 10% of salaried staff. 

In October, Tesla faced a criminal investigation into its “self-driving” claims, sources said.

Tesla’s claims that its cars can drive themselves, which it calls “full self-driving capabilities,” had been under investigation by the US Department of Justice since 2021, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The investigation could lead to criminal charges.

In December, Tesla began delivering its electric Semi truck.

2023

In an April open letter, a group of 17 Tesla investors asked the board to rein in Elon Musk’s attention, which they suggested had become too scattered across his various other companies.

In May, Elon Musk announced in an interview with Ford CEO Jim Farley that the Supercharger network of roughly 12,000 chargers will become available to the owners of Ford electric vehicles through a Tesla partnership.

That same month, Tesla’s Model Y sales outsold all other vehicles in the first quarter of 2023, according to estimates from JATO Dynamics, marking the first time it happened for Tesla and for any EV.

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