Tesla Motors is on track to raise over $20 million as early as next week, its new CEO Elon Musk told Reuters this week.
Musk spoke with the news service Thursday night to dispel rumors that the electric-car company wasn't able to deliver cars and was going bankrupt.
The new funding, which will come from existing investors, will boost Tesla's bank balance, which stands at $9 million now, and will help the company get its cash flowing in the right direction, Musk said.
He didn't say which investors plan to pony up. The company's backers so far include VantagePoint Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and individual investors such as Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Musk, a PayPal co-founder who has been the primary investor in the San Carlos, Calif., startup, said he personally guarantees the deliveries of its first-ever model, the $109,000 sporty Roadster, to the company's long list of waiting customers.
"I've gone on record as saying that I am personally standing behind delivering the cars and the deposits for the company," Musk told Reuters. "I have the means and wherewithal to do so. So people should have absolutely zero concern about their deposit."
The company has delivered fewer than 60 Roadsters while taking more than 1,200 orders from customers who have had to plunk down deposits of between $5,000 and $60,000 each.
In 2005, a potential customer complained that Tesla doesn't put the deposit money in an escrow account and warned that customers could lose their deposits if the company went bankrupt.
The news that Tesla, founded in 2003, is facing money trouble came out earlier this month, when Musk took over the CEO post and announced plans to layoff employees as well as close an office in Detroit and delay the launch of Model S - a $60,000 sedan - until mid-2011 (see Tesla Puts Musk at Helm, Expects Layoffs and Model S Delay). The financial market turmoil was to blame, Musk said at the time in a blog post.
But Musk's interview with Reuters on Thursday night underscored the tough times faced by a company that seemed unstoppable earlier this year, when it lined up Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who bought a Roadster, for a press conference where the company announced it was going to build the Model S in California instead of New Mexico (see Tesla: We'll Build Electric Sedans in California and Green Light post).
The Reuters interview took place after Silicon Valley's tabloid blog Valleywag published comments from an unhappy Tesla employee Thursday saying that Tesla wouldn't have enough money to deliver the Roadsters as promised and hasn't been forthcoming about its poor finances. The employee talked to Valleywag after a Tesla staff meeting in which employees learned that the company had $9 million in cash.
Tesla hasn't been able to raise an expected $100 million in private-equity funding to build a $250 million new factory and headquarters in San Jose, Calif. as investors dawdled on making good on their promises, Musk said last week (see Musk: Tesla Hit by Market ‘Freefall').
The financial market crisis has forced Tesla to change its fund-raising strategies. It is now counting on a $200 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy and plans to apply for part of the $25 billion set aside by Congress recently to help American automakers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles (see Funding Roundup: How Poor Do Investors Feel?). Tesla qualified for getting a loan guarantee from the DOE a year ago, but the DOE still has to review and approve the final application.
In February, after closing a $40 million bridge loan, Tesla said it hopes to raise a fifth equity round of roughly $75 million to $100 million in the "late summer" and target an initial public offering early next year if market conditions improve (see Tesla to Big Three: Let's Be Friends). Of course, that was before the bank bailout (see Lehman's Fall to Create Greentech Woes and VCs Predict Greentech Investment Slowdown).
Tesla executives have also discussed partnering with major carmakers to produce its third model that would cost about $30,000. With the slumping economy and the enormous challenges of building a car company, remaining an independent company might be even more difficult for Tesla, said Michael Kanellos, a Greentech Media analyst who wrote an opinion piece in July that advocated the sale of Tesla to an established carmaker.
The company in February told Greentech Media it would prefer to remain independent than to get bought. "[Being purchased] is not our desired outcome," Darryl Siry, vice president of sales and marketing, said at the time.
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