Ian Wright, one of the originators of Tesla, is surprised by the automaker’s success, but still doubts the company’s goals are achievable.
In an interview with the San Francisco Business Times, Wright talks about coming on board with Tesla co-founders Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpenning. In the beginning, he said the company was steering in a different direction.
“The original idea for Tesla was we were going to make an extremely high performance electric sports car, sell that at a good margin and then see where we’d go from there,” said Wright.
Wright and Eberhard approached Elon Musk, Tesla’s current CEO, about the project. After a 2.5-hour presentation, Musk agreed to fund Tesla and became the company’s first investor.
The new team, however, couldn’t agree on a plan for the company. After a year, Wright left the company.
“I’m still, I’m afraid, out of sync with their entire vision,” Wright said. “They really believe that pure electric cars are the way to go. And if you make them cheap enough, everybody will buy them, everybody will drive them. And I’m afraid I’ve never really been on board with that.”
Wright described Musk as “an extremely bright guy” and a “very, very good engineer.” But he said the two could be at odds at times.
Musk “comes up with crazy ideas that don’t always work,” said Wright, adding that Musk washed over attempts to address shortcomings.
After leaving Tesla, Wright used his knowledge of electric motors for a different application. In 2011, he started Wrightspeed, a manufacturer of aftermarket microturbine-powered plug-in hybrid powertrains. Wrightspeed installs the powertrains in medium-duty commercial vehicles (such as delivery trucks) and heavy-duty garbage trucks.
“It’s a radical transition for the trucking business,” explained Wright. “If you look at the per vehicle numbers they burn so much more fuel, they create so much more pollution than cars, that we think the value is there.”
With approximately 220,000 medium-duty trucks needing a new powertrain in the U.S. every year, Wright calculates that there is huge potential for his company. He isn’t sure that Tesla can match that growth.
“What Tesla has achieved in terms of changing people’s perceptions about electric cars, from golf carts to vehicles that compete with Mercedes and Porsche, is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Wright. “That said, we’re going after high polluters, and in that sense our economic proposition could allow us to scale bigger than Tesla.”
Though Wright isn’t sure of Tesla’s future, he said the company has already exceed his expectations.
Musk, Eberhard and Tarpenning wanted to build Tesla’s “cheaper and cheaper until they were outselling the Camry. And I still think that’s not possible. But they’ve done vastly better than I expected they would, so, maybe I’m wrong,” said Wright.
“The Model S has been a runaway sales success. They’ve been outselling Porsche.”