Elon Musk is often credited as the sole creator of Tesla, but in reality, two other people founded the company before Musk entered the picture. Like Apple and Google, Tesla has become a household name for many people. Teslas are best known for their autonomous driving features, incredible speeds, long range, and fast charging. While larger companies like Ford, Chevy, and Subaru are also entering the EV space, Tesla remains the company to beat.
At the head of Tesla today is Elon Musk. While Musk was relatively unknown a few years ago, he’s since become just as popular as Tim Cook or Jeff Bezos. Along with being in charge of Tesla, Musk is also credited with founding SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company. Whether someone knows Musk for his involvement with those companies or frequent Dogecoin posts on Twitter, his impact on the world is hard to ignore (for better or worse).
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Despite Musk’s popularity, there’s one accolade that people often get wrong. Elon Musk is frequently referred to as Tesla’s CEO and founder. However, only one of those is true. Musk got involved with Tesla in 2004 and was appointed CEO in 2008. But he wasn’t one of the founding members when Tesla Motors was established in 2003. Instead, the co-founding title belongs to two other individuals.
Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning Founded Tesla
Tesla was officially founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning on July 1, 2003. While both men have since left Tesla, they played a huge role in the company’s beginning. In addition to co-founding Tesla, Eberhard served as CEO up until December 2007, when he was asked by Tesla’s board of directors to step down from the company. Tarpenning took on the role of VP of Electric Engineering, though he left shortly after Eberhard in January 2008.
How did Elon Musk come into the picture of Tesla? Eberhard and Tarpenning first met Musk in January 2004 while rounding up Series A funding for the company. Clearly interested in what Tesla was hoping to achieve, Musk invested $6.5 million of the total $7.5 million in Series A funding that February. And Musk’s involvement only grew from there. He was placed on the board of directors and was also in charge of the Tesla Roadster’s product design.
But the big shift didn’t come until 2008. Following Eberhard stepping down from the Tesla CEO role in 2007, Michael Marks briefly served as interim CEO, followed by Ze’ev Drori briefly acting as Tesla’s CEO and President between December 2007 and October 2008. Elon Musk suceeded Drori that same month, and he’s been Tesla’s CEO ever since. While Elon Musk has clearly had an enormous impact on Tesla, calling him the company’s founder isn’t technically accurate. Eberhard and Tarpenning founded Tesla, Musk made a huge investment in 2004, became CEO in 2008, and that’s how we got to where Tesla is today.