The Making Of Tesla: Invention, Betrayal, And The Birth Of The Roadster

Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

Tesla Motors probably shouldn't exist.

The last successful American car startup was founded 111 years ago. It's called Ford.

Barely a decade old, Tesla is already gigantic and adored. Its market capitalization hovers around $28 billion. Morgan Stanley calls it "the world's most important car company," and a 2014 nationwide survey found that Tesla's Model S was the "Most Loved Vehicle in America."

So how has Tesla flourished where others have flopped?

Today, everybody thinks Tesla was created by its charismatic CEO, Elon Musk, a PayPal cofounder who is the face of the company.

The truth is way crazier than that.

Tesla was the brainchild of a tiny band of obsessive Silicon Valley engineers who would go on to collaborate with — and collide with — the young billionaire.

This is the tale of that collision.

In reporting the story, Business Insider conducted several in-depth interviews with most of the key players and pored over little-noticed documents made public in a lawsuit. We also met with a curious lack of cooperation from the usually press-friendly Tesla Motors.

This is Tesla, the origin story.

Elon Musk celebrates Tesla's initial public offering on June 29, 2010.
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Try And Touch The Dashboard

In the summer of 2004, a product designer named Malcolm Smith got a call from a hardware guy he used to work with, one Martin Eberhard.

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