With roughly 13 percent, Elon Musk is the single-largest shareholder in electric vehicle (EV) pioneer Tesla. In mid-September, Musk was the richest man in the world by far by virtue of his holding in Tesla and rocket venture SpaceX.
Musk didn’t start up Tesla. He isn’t the man who envisioned an electric car based on lithium ion batteries—that was the brainwave of physicist JB Straubel in the ’90s. He isn’t the man who reckoned that an electric car technically was more suited to a lighter weight (lighter than an SUV) luxury sports car “that would let rich people have fun and feel good about themselves, too”, as Ashlee Vance describes it in his 2015 biography of Musk—that’s the way engineers Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning saw it in the early 2000s. And Musk didn’t name the startup Tesla, in memory of electric motor pioneer Nikola Tesla. Eberhard and Tarpenning incorporated the company on July 1, 2003.
So what did Musk do? Plenty of the other important stuff. For starters, he believed in Straubel’s electric car project when, as Straubel told Vance, “everyone else had told me I was nuts”. Vance writes: “The crazy idea struck an immediate chord with Musk, who had been thinking about EVs for years.”
Eberhard and Tarpenning pitched Musk as they felt he thought differently after hearing him speak at Stanford about his vision of launching mice into space. Musk gave $6.5 million of the $7 million needed to build a prototype vehicle, becoming the firm’s largest shareholder and chairman. Vance writes: “Musk had the engineering smarts to know what they were building. He also shared their larger goal of trying to end the US’s addiction to oil.”
The Tesla-Musk tale is, among many things, also a saga of how an often-rare blend of engineering and marketing smarts, R&D and funding went a long way in building bestselling models like the Model Y.
Even as Tesla looks for a viable business model for India, the domestic EV ecosystem is seeing the kind of action that began some two decades ago in San Carlos, California: Two-, three- and four-wheeler EV ventures coming into their own; frenetic development of cell and platform technologies and charging infrastructure; and investors making big bets.
In this edition, we turn the spotlight on the EV ecosystem. Harichandan Arakali dives into a bunch of startups, from battery-as-a-service ventures to one focussed on fast charging without battery damage.
On the Forbes India cover is a man who could be compared with the maverick in Musk. Like Musk, Ola Cabs and Ola Electric CEO and co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal has his share of critics and cynics. A decade ago, Musk silenced many of his naysayers when Tesla delivered the all-electric Model S.
What has Aggarwal delivered so far? That’s what Rajiv Singh sought to find out during an interview with him and a visit to the Futurefactory in Tamil Nadu. Singh’s verdict: After a string of setbacks, Aggarwal has two victories to boast: Setting up Futurefactory in six months, and selling 3 lakh scooters till mid-September. “Ola is a place for the ambitious,” says Aggarwal. For more on the Ola game plan, which includes making electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers, cars and batteries, turn to ‘Charged Up: Inside Ola’s Audacious Electric Gambit’.
Meanwhile, two of India’s most transformative automotive brands, Mahindra and Tata, are putting pedal to the metal in their electrification drive. Manu Balachandran delves into the Mahindra blueprint, which includes electrifying all its ICE brands over time. For more on that strategy, don’t miss ‘Mahindra’s Long Bet’.