It may be that no one has been happier to lose a bet and write a check for $1,000 than Wall Street Journal auto writer Dan Neil.

The bet he always said he wanted to lose was over the date Tesla Motors would deliver its first production 2012 Model S electric cars to paying customers--which it did at the end of last month, right on time--and that car's specifications.

Neil made the wager with Tesla CEO Elon Musk back in 2009, based on his skepticism about Musk's public promises about what Tesla would do.

Last Friday, Neil paid off: He wrote a check for $1,000 to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the group both had agreed should be the beneficiary.

Best of all, on Friday night, the rather wealthier Musk tweeted that he would pay up as if he'd lost the bet, also writing a check--his for $1 million--to the same group.

Four conditions

The original terms of the bet, recalled last August by Neil, were that for Musk to win, the following things had to happen:

(1) The 2012 Tesla Model S had to enter series production and deliveries to retail customers had to occur before the end of 2012.

Tesla Motors gallery in Houston Galleria, opened October 2011, with Model S on display

Tesla Motors gallery in Houston Galleria, opened October 2011, with Model S on display

(2) The Model S had to offer seats for seven passengers, as certified by the NHTSA, and earn a 4- or 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA.

(3) The Model S battery pack had to provide for en-route swapping at roadside switching stations, just as the Better Place battery swapping scheme does.

(4) Prices for the 2012 Tesla Model S had to remain at the announced levels: $57,400 for the "160-mile" version, $67,400 for the one with "230 miles," and $77,400 for the high-end "300-mile" version (which the EPA rated at 265 miles of range). Those prices are prior to all Federal or other incentives.

How'd Tesla do?

The first and fourth are a slam dunk. The second is good so far, though the NHTSA has not yet released its safety ratings for the 2012 Model S.

As for the third, Neil refers to that condition in his Wall Street Journal article as a battery pack that "would be easily removed and replaced," albeit not necessary at a network of swapping stations.

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Journalist Dan Neil with Bob Lutz on the red carpet

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Journalist Dan Neil with Bob Lutz on the red carpet

His gracious concession on that point highlights the remarkable accomplishment of Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], which has apparently put an all-new, all-electric luxury sport sedan into production on time, at the promised price, in a factory it acquired only two years ago.

Watching for issues

Over the next six months, as Tesla ramps up Model S production while watching carefully for quality issues during production and after customer deliveries, the automotive press may or may not get a chance to drive the car over substantial periods to get a sense of how it stacks up against the competition.

Early reviews of the car were rapturous, but were based only on drives of 10 minutes (or in one case, an hour or so).

The first customers will also weigh in. You can be sure that they will surface problems of reliability, performance, or range--if there should be any.


Meanwhile, Neil has congratulated Musk and his company, paid off the bet, and will be watching to see how the 2012 Tesla Model S car is received as production increases into the thousands.

He also notes that he's reserving judgment on the car itself until he has a chance to drive it.

Now all Tesla has to do is start saying how many Model S cars it's actually delivering each month.


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