Tesla Motors has raised $40 million in loans, the company announced Sunday night, a few days after its CEO rebutted rumors that the cash-strapped electric-car company could go out of business.
"Almost all current major investors" participated in the convertible debt financing, the San Carlos, Calif.-based company said. Tesla plans to use the money to continue making its sporty $109,000 Roadster, to expand its power train sales and to continue product development.
Separately, an arbitrator on Monday ruled against Tesla is its trade-secret lawsuit against Fisker Automotive. Tesla filed suit in April contending that Fisker stole Tesla's design and technology. The suit named Fisker's design firm called Fisker Coachbuild, as well as Fisker CEO Henrik Fisker and Fisker Coachbuild's COO Bernhard Koehler as defendants.
In the lawsuit, Tesla alleged that Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler agreed to a design contract with Tesla in order to gain access to trade secrets, which they then used to start Fisker Automotive in fall 2007 and engineer a competing car. Fisker, based in Irvine, Calif., plans to launch its first-ever model, a plug-in hybrid electric sedan by the fourth quarter of 2009. The four-door sedan, Karma, will cost about $80,000 (see Fisker Raises Fistfuls of Cash).
"We disagree with the arbitrator's ruling, but it doesn't affect operations or our focus on accelerating Roadster production and delivery to customers," said Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad in an email.
The $40 million funding announcement came after Tesla CEO Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies, last week sought to quash rumors about the company's finances and ability to deliver the Roadster to the roughly 1,200 customers who have plunked down deposits of between $5,000 and $60,000 each.
Musk told Reuters then that he was lining up $20 million to provide more financial cushioning for the company, which he said had $9 million in the bank (see Tesla CEO Denies Bankruptcy Rumors, Seeks $20M).
"Forty million [dollars] is significantly more than we need," said Musk in a written statement. "However, the board, investors and I felt it was important to have significant cash reserves."
The financial turmoil has been cruel to Tesla, which was in the midst of raising $100 million when Lehman Brothers and other banks began to topple, taking with them much of the capital that the electric carmaker and many other tech companies need to develop and manufacture products.
Not only hasn't Tesla been able to raise the $100 million to help build a planned $250 million factory and new headquarters in San Jose, Calif., the company last month replaced its CEO and announced plans to lay off employees, delay the launch of its $60,000 Model S and close an office in Detroit (see Musk: Tesla Hit by Market ‘Freefall' and Tesla Puts Musk at Helm, Expects Layoffs and Model S Delay).
Tesla has delivered fewer than 60 Roadsters since it began mass production earlier this year. It's making 10 cars per week and plans to increase the rate to 30 cars per week early next year, the company said.
The company also is waiting for the approval of a U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee of $200 million, which it qualified to apply for a year ago.
The company in February told Greentech Media it would prefer to remain independent than to get bought. But the carmaker's ability to stay independent will be tested during the economic slump, when mergers and acquisitions tend to heat up as companies fight to survive.
VentureBeat already has pinpointed Ford Motor Co. as a likely buyer, if only because Ford claims to be able to survive the weakening economy on its own while its two rivals, General Motors and Chrysler, are talking about a possible merger.
Tesla, founded in 2003, has long resisted the idea of being sold to an established carmaker. Many of its fans also have relished the thought of an upstart car company shaking loose the grip major car companies have in the market.
But as Greentech Media analyst Michael Kanellos pointed out in a July opinion piece, engineering and making cars takes a lot of people, money and planning. Can a cash-strapped Tesla continue to stay independent while accomplishing what it's set out to do?
Join industry leaders and influencers at Greentech Media's new conference series Greentech Innovations: End-to-End Electricity on November 17 and 18 in New York City.