The things that turn up in the discovery process while in civil litigation are simply amazing sometimes.
Today, Martin Eberhard and Elon Musk – two of the principals behind Tesla Motors – have settled the attention-getting suit filed by Eberhard earlier this year. Among the allegations, Eberhard said that Musk and Tesla Motors send Eberhard a defective car and that Musk libeled Eberhard. Eberhard also accused Musk of wrongfully calling himself a founder.
Eberhard's case wasn't particularly strong. In press releases issued while Eberhard was still CEO, Telsa consistently said that it was founded by Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Musk didn't refer to himself as a founder, at least the vast majority of the time, and most news reports didn't either: In a press release, the company credited leading three funding rounds but didn't call him a founder.
In announcing the settlement, Tesla said that "two of the co-founders" of Tesla have settled their differences.
"As a co-founder of the company, Elon's contributions to Tesla have been extraordinary," Eberhard said.
So did Elon graduate to founder as part of the settlement? Sounds like it, along with others.
"Elon and others have long believed there were five co-founders –Elon, Martin, Ian Wright, Marc Tarpenning and JB Straubel," a spokesperson wrote.
So we went from two-and-a-half to five. That's sort of like discovering Karen Silkwood was poisoned. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed and it only applies to the parties involved.
Just for the record, JB Straubel is the chief technology officer and heads up a lot of the battery research. Ian Wright left soon after Tesla was formed to form Wrightspeed, which is building electric sports cars and drive trains for hybrid trucks. In several interviews with Wright over the years, he's never referred to himself as a co-founder. Eberhard, meanwhile, has a new electric car project.
Ironically, another person who arguably could be credited as the ultimate founder is not listed here. Tom Gage, the founder of AC Propulsion, was a maker of electric cars in Southern California. Eberhard originally wanted to sell those cars to the public, according to various articles. (Here is one and here is another.) Tesla ultimately licensed technology from AC. Musk had also earlier contacted Gage about electrifying a sports car.
Image of the Tesla Roadster via the company.