Tesla Motors Founder Martin Eberhard Out As CEO, Electric Roadster Possibly Delayed?

Tesla Motors founder Martin Eberhard's just been "sacked." Well, sorta anyway — in as much as it's possible to "sack" the founder and CEO of your company. Also in as much as it's possible to do it in a way that has your CEO actively trying to not be in the position anymore. In a move that feels very Bill Ford-ian, the guy who provided the founding ideas for the company that's built the 'lectric Lotus has made a switch in positions from the Chief Executive Officer to Chief Technology Officer and replaced himself with an interim boss — the current CEO of manufacturer outsourcer, Flextronics — Michael Marks. Our thought is that as long as we're able to get ourselves some electric plug-in roadsters, we could care less what folks titles are. The problem is there may be some issues with that, because although as of this morning the Eberhard news isn't so much that anymore — you make have read it somewhere else — what is news is what we've found in an exclusive copy of the e-mail the man who used to be in charge of Tesla sent out to his would-be buyers. That e-mail, below the jump, reveals manufacturing of the hot 'lectric sled beginning next month and distribution by this fall, "is not yet fully within [Tesla's] grasp."

I am writing for two important reasons:

1. To update you on the status of the Tesla Roadster program and your car
2. To let you know about a recent change in my role at Tesla Motors

First, the change in my role. I have had the distinct pleasure of being CEO of Tesla Motors for four years now, growing the company from two people in a tiny office in Menlo Park to 250 people spread around the world. The Roadster, once just a crazy idea of mine, is now almost ready for production, thanks to the hard work and quite a few strokes of brilliance by our team.

This week I move from the CEO position to become President of Technology, and I remain on Tesla's board of directors. In my new job, I will focus on the final details of the Roadster and on advancing Tesla's leadership in our core technology. I will also be able to spend more time with you, our customers. My passion is for creating technology that brings about meaningful change, and for the people who embrace such technology. As we move towards production and contemplate the choices ahead of us, we at Tesla need leadership with that same kind of passion and talent for operations - passion that will secure Tesla's future as the next major automobile company.

I initiated an intense CEO search some time ago, but the board and I have yet to find the right person to fill this role - even as Tesla continues to grow and its operational needs become paramount.

We are incredibly fortunate that Michael Marks, former CEO of Flextronics, the world's largest contract manufacturing company, has agreed to serve as CEO on an interim basis. Michael grew Flextronics from a small company to the 19 billion dollar powerhouse it is today. He is also an early investor in Tesla Motors and a customer. We could not ask for more able leadership during this transition. The Board and I will continue to search for a CEO to lead Tesla on a permanent basis.

Now, let's turn our attention to the Roadster. The excitement is building as we move towards the start of production. And naturally, the question on many Tesla customers' minds is "When will I get my car?"

The short answer is: We are still planning to start production of the Roadster by the end of next month and deliver the first cars to customers this fall. We have a good chance of meeting this goal, but to be fully transparent, I want you to know that while it is within our reach, it is not yet fully within our grasp.

Since my last formal update to you in December, we've made tremendous progress in building and testing the second generation prototypes. With each successive technical improvement, the driving experience has improved as well. We're waiting to publicly announce the results of our EPA range validation tests until all the results are in, but I'll let you know in advance you will be pleased. You are going to love this car.

So what's left to do? Testing, testing and more testing. It falls into two major categories.

* Crash testing. We're in the midst of final crash testing now, as outlined in the most recent issue of The Roadster newsletter. We feel confident about passing these tests, since we conducted these same tests on the first generation prototypes much earlier in the program. However, there is always the chance that something unpredictable occurs causing us not to pass this time, in which case we would incur a delay to address the issues. As soon as we complete crash testing our customers will be the first to know.

* Durability testing. This is where it all comes together to ensure that your car is durable and reliable. Durability testing includes both the mechanical components of the Roadster and also the software that controls everything from door latches to battery cooling. This testing has been underway for some time and will in fact continue after we start production of cars. This is typical of all car manufacturers; we want to insure that our test cars discover any long-term durability issues ahead of your car. We will soon enter the next phase of durability testing that incorporates all previous fixes. The results of this testing are critical to the schedule.Once we enter production, we will build the first cars very slowly - about one per week - accelerating as we gain experience. It takes about 5 weeks to ship the car from the U.K. to the U.S. So a September production start translates into an early November delivery of the first car to a customer.

We will hold short of projecting a specific delivery date for your car until we work through the milestones outlined above. In the meantime, we are working to the general timeframe of delivering Founders' Series cars this year, Signature 100 cars in Q1 2008 and other customers' cars after Q1 depending on when you placed your reservation. If we incur any additional delays due to the ongoing testing, I will let you know.

I want to express my deep gratitude for the trust you placed in Tesla when you reserved your car and for your willingness to embark on this journey with us. During this development program, I have learned that the first 5% and the final 5% of the creation of a car are the most difficult to achieve. We are going to build and deliver a great car for you. We're in the final 5% now and the end is in sight. Stay tuned.
Best regards,
Martin Eberhard
Co-founder and President of Technology
Tesla Motors