Since the introduction of the Tesla Roadster in 2008, fans of performance and green technology have flocked to Tesla’s electric cars. Here a few things you may not know about the pricey, innovative rides.
1. Elon Musk is not an original Tesla founder ...
Although Musk has become synonymous with Tesla Motors as the company’s CEO and product architect, the venture existed before he got involved. Founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning started Tesla in 2003 in an attempt to “solve a real problem”: dependence on oil. The pair decided to build a vehicle to improve green cars’ image and ease them into the mainstream. The Tesla team spent years developing the product and seeking new capital.
2. ... But he has been with the company since 2004.
That’s where Musk came in. He led the company’s first investment round in 2004 and chaired its board of directors. He also was the controlling investor, personally funding the majority of Series A capital investment with $7.5 million. As Musk became the face of the increasingly popular Tesla, his relationship with Eberhard soured and eventually sparked a legal battle that was settled out of court.
3. Choosing the Tesla name took longer than you might think.
The company was named in honor of Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), the Serbian inventor and engineer who developed the first modern alternating current (AC) motor. On an early version of the Tesla Motors website, the company leaders stated, “Without Tesla's vision and brilliance, our car wouldn't be possible.” Co-founder Eberhard selected the name after months of struggling for an idea that his then-girlfriend thought sounded appropriate. When the two went to dinner at the Blue Bayou in Disneyland, he suggested Tesla as the company name. She approved, as did Tarpenning, who immediately secured the domain name TeslaMotors.com. The company incorporated on July 1, 2003.
4. The batteries make all the difference.
There are several electric vehicles (EVs) on the market today, ranging from the Nissan Leaf to the Mercedes Benz B Class—but Tesla won fans over with its unique blend of power (one gets zero to 60 in 3.1 seconds) and range (one model gets more than 350 miles per charge, according to the EPA). The reason: While other manufacturers use specialized, large format lithium ion cells, Tesla’s battery pack is made up of thousands of inexpensive commodity cells that are similar to the ones in your laptop, only more refined. There are over a billion of these cells produced a year for all sorts of industries.
5. Long road trips across the country aren’t a problem in a Tesla.
Driving an EV can be convenient, but when it’s time to plug in the car, urban apartment dwellers or those that rely on their EVs for long road trips can’t just slip into their garages to recharge. Tesla has tried to sidestep this problem by strategically placing more than 45,000 superchargers around the world. The cost of using these stations is incorporated into the purchase price of the car. The company offers a map so travelers can find where to recharge.
6. Scheduled maintenance is simple.
Tesla owners don’t lose much time to oil changes. Only the tires and wiper blades need regular replacement on a Tesla vehicle. The battery and coolants should be checked periodically, but thanks to the clever braking system—the car slows mostly by reversing the electrical motor instead of applying friction (which also charges the battery)—a Tesla won’t need new brake pads very often. There’s no oil to change, fan belts, air filters, spark plugs, or other parts needed in traditional cars.
7. Another design element makes Teslas safe.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has consistently given the cars high marks when it comes to safety ratings. In fact, at one point, the Model S achieved the best safety rating of any car in history. How tough was the Tesla? It actually broke one of the machines used for testing.
“Of note, during validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 Gs,” the company reported. “While the exact number is uncertain due to Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in.” This strength stems from a solid structure and the Model S’s electric drivetrain and low-mounted battery. These components allowed engineers to leave more “sacrificial space” between passengers and increase overall rigidity.
8. Some Teslas had an upgrade that was downright ludicrous.
In the past, buyers of the Model S or Model X could opt for a battery-and-electronics package called “Ludicrous Mode.” The upgrade powered the car from zero to 60 mph in less than 2.3 seconds. The boost came from a “smart fuse” with its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery. Basically, the mechanism constantly monitored battery output down to the millisecond, allowing the software to run the car’s battery at close to its absolute limit. Tesla discontinued Ludicrous Mode for the 2022 Model S and X.
An even speedier option: Tesla's sports car, the Roadster, can make the move from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 1.9 seconds.
9. Tesla has also ventured into SUVs and trucks.
Tesla’s mid-size SUV, Model X, is a seven-passenger vehicle with three rows of seats and gullwing-style doors (“falcon doors” in Tesla lingo) that allow access to rear seats. The Cybertruck features a “nearly impenetrable exoskeleton” and can tow more than 14,000 pounds.
10. There’s an “Easter egg” on the Model S.
The Model S has a hidden feature in the diagnostics mode on the center console. Punch in 0-0-7 and the car will make “nautically themed adjustments” that show the car morphing into a sea-worthy shape.
A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2023.