Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car startup Tesla Motors, sometimes says things that later prove not to be quite true.
In that, he's like many entrepreneurs, who spend a portion of their time persuading the unconvinced and painting pictures of the rosy future, despite inconvenient facts that may contradict that vision of the future.
And in the case of the 2012 Tesla Model S all-electric sports sedan, which Tesla says it will launch before the end of next year, skeptics abound.
One of the most prominent may be Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive journalist who now writes about cars for the Wall Street Journal.
'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Journalist Dan Neil on the red carpet with his wife, Tina
When Tesla gave out brief rides in a prototype Model S in April 2009, Neil called the car "a far more ambitious--some would say unlikely--project" than Tesla's Roadster in his Los Angeles Times writeup.
Neil said the schedule promised by Musk was "an audacious timeline that makes many in the car industry roll their eyes." And, he added, "Even people inside Tesla are leery." The implication was clear: Neil didn't believe Tesla would be able to deliver on Musk's promises.
A week later, Musk e-mailed Neil and told him--in no uncertain terms--that he was wrong. After several lively rounds of e-mail (which Neil no longer has, he says), he challenged Musk to a bet on the outcome.
The two discussed the bet again at a panel this spring following the premiere of the movie Revenge of the Electric Car, in which Musk is a main character and Neil narrates.
Tesla Model S Alpha build
As Neil recalls them, the requirements for Musk to win the bet are as follows:
(1) Series production models of the Tesla Model S have to be delivered to paying customers before the end of 2012. (It was originally 2011, but Neil concedes that Tesla said it wouldn't make that date fairly early, and has since stuck to its 2012 date.)
(2) The Model S has to have seven passenger seats, certified as such by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and earn a 4- or 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA.
(3) It has to have a battery pack that allows en-route swapping at a highway roadside station, similar to the Better Place battery swapping scheme.
(4) Model S prices must remain at the levels Tesla and Musk announced: $57,400 for the version with 160 miles of range, $67,400 for the 230-mile version, and $77,400 (was $87,400, corrected) for the top-of-the-line 300-mile version (which will comprise the bulk of early production). All prices are before any Federal or other incentives.
If Tesla misses any one of those targets, Neil says, he wins the bet and Musk must donate $1 million to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
But if Tesla does what it said it will, Neil loses, and--being a journalist, not a multimillionaire entrepreneur--he will donate $1,000 to the same group.
We reached out to Tesla for a comment from Musk, but had not heard back by publication time. If Musk does comment, we'll update our story.
Tesla Model S Alpha build
Neil takes pains to underscore that he bears Musk no personal animus.
"I like, respect, and admire Musk," he stressed to GreenCarReports. "And I want desperately to lose this bet."
So why make it, then? "It doesn't do anyone any good for Tesla to overpromise--and Elon has a habit of overpromising," Neil said.
"I know what it takes to start up a car company. Credibility is the most important thing in the green-car climate; if you don't deliver what people expect, it tends to discredit the technology in general."
Later, though, Neil alluded to Tesla in quoting the old saying: "If you shoot for the moon, and miss, you still wind up among the stars." And he admits he's torn; he really does want the Model S to come out on time, as promised, so that he loses the bet.
What do you think? Will the 2012 Tesla Model S be delivered on schedule, with all the promised features, letting Elon Musk win the bet?
Let us know what you think in the Comments below.