Elon Musk in the shadows at the Tesla Model S launch party, New York City, April 2009
The 2009 Tesla Roadster is an absolute blast to drive. It will make an electric-car fan out of every single person who drives one, or even rides shotgun.
The company that makes the car, however, is not such a blast.
In its short 7-year life, Tesla has had many missteps, multiple CEOs, layoffs, lawsuits, and even for a time an anti-management blog (TeslaFounders.com) written by its deposed founder, Martin Eberhard.
Now, the battle has ratched up. Eberhard has sued current CEO Elon Musk, alleging that Musk has run the company into the ground, and libeled and slandered him personally.
Perhaps the most startling claim is that Musk arranged for Tesla to supply Eberhard not with the second Roadster to come off the line, a dark green "Founder's Series" car, but instead with a damaged Roadster that a Tesla employee had run into the back of a truck.
The suit was filed in California Superior Court at the end of May; the full, 146-page complaint (Martin Eberhard vs Elon Musk, Tesla Motors, and 20 John Does) can be read online.
[UPDATE: Earth2Tech has a nice piece by Katie Fehrenbacher focusing on Eberhard's concern in the suit over Elon Musk being perceived as the founder of Tesla, which irks Eberhard no end.]
The busy Musk, who made his millions by selling Paypal to eBay, is undoubtedly charismatic. He's also slightly loose with facts at times, having claimed that the Department of Energy had approved Tesla for low-interest loans when in fact it hadn't, among other misstatements.
And he seems to want to imitate automotive CEO Carlos Ghosn, who for a time ran both Nissan and Renault. The two companies of which Musk is chief executive, however, have little or no overlap; the other is SpaceX, which is developing a privately funded rocket for space shots.
Tesla recently sold a 10 percent stake in itself to Daimler, which was fresh off its misadventures with Chrysler. That should make the launch of the company's 2012 Tesla Model S electric sedan at least plausible, though most observers suggest Elon Musk has contributed many millions to the company himself.
But every time Tesla celebrates a milestone--like the delivery of its 500th Roadster last month--it seems to be followed by another PR disaster. Even by the fast-moving, big-ego standards of Silicon Valley, this is getting silly.
2009 Tesla Roadster, Skyline Boulevard, San Mateo, CA