photos: green wombat
Tesla Motors is Silicon Valley’s first car company, founded by geeks rather than gearheads. The startup behind the forthcoming all-electric Roadster sports car may also be the first Web 2.0 automaker. Tesla execs regularly blog, detailing the development of the zero-to-60-in-four-seconds, $98,000 Roadster and engaging potential buyers and green car supporters in discussions about everything from the engineering challenges of producing an EV to marketing strategies. Now the San Carlos company is tapping its fan base to gather data to be used in designing home charging stations for the Roadster and, presumably, for future cars like the WhiteStar electric sedan under development.
In a blog post last week, Tesla founder and president of technology Martin Eberhard asked EV enthusiasts to download an Excel spreadsheet to record information about their home’s circuitry and the electrical load created by their various appliances. "Okay everybody, I need a little help from you," wrote Eberhard. "What is the biggest EV charging circuit that could be installed in your house? This sounds like an easy question, but it turns out not to be. The answer depends on a lot of factors….Help me out here: Download the spreadsheet, roll up your sleeves, survey your own electrical service, and report back to me. If you are really inspired, do a few more houses – your parents, your brother, your neighbor, whatever." (Tesla is also getting help from California utility PG&E (PCG) on the home-charging front. A prototype charging station is pictured at right.) Telsa communications director David Vespremi told Green Wombat that more than 30 people have sent in surveys over the past week.
Back in June, Green Wombat sat down with Eberhard at Tesla’s headquarters to talk about electric cars and the benefits of blogging the development of the Roadster. "We get more customer feedback, more market data than you could ever get from the most expensive market survey you could pay for," Eberhard says. "Being open and getting feedback has been tremendously useful to us. I’m not a big believer in market surveys and focus groups. They’re useful for small things, like ‘does this user interface actually work?’ On the hand with the blogs its a constant conversation and the amount of data and the quality of it is very good. We know our customers, what they know and don’t know, how to target our messaging, and whether our message is getting through. I think the secrecy thing is overrated."
And it goes without saying, that’s a great PR and marketing strategy. Eberhard, of course, acknowledges that Tesla keeps its core technology secret. And that as a startup that has yet to put its first car into production, the company can afford to be more open than competitors who can’t risk killing demand their current lineup of cars by disclosing too much information about the next model. "If I had already some other sports car on the road and was coming out with the Roadster I’d have to be more careful about it," he says. "With WhiteStar we’re taking a pretty calculated gamble that people who would opt for WhiteStar, most of them wouldn’t have opted for a Roadster anyway. We’ll have to be a little more careful down the road, that’s just the market reality. We’ll try to remain an open and transparent company. Even if I’m not telling people about features on the car, I’ll tell people why."