Martin Eberhard, founder and former CEO of electric-sports-car startup Tesla Motors, on Monday confirmed he had been ousted from the company and said he was "disappointed" about the situation.
"If I had my way, I would still be part of Tesla," he told Greentech Media. "It was the decision of the principal investor in the company and the new CEO that they wanted me out of their way."
Eberhard had stepped down from the top position in August, when company chairman and investor Elon Musk announced that Michael Marks, former Flextronics CEO, was taking over as interim CEO. According to the announcement, Eberhard would remain with the company as president of technology.
Then last Wednesday, Musk announced Tesla had hired Ze'ev Drori, former CEO of automobile-security firm Clifford Electronics, to lead the company (see Tesla Names New CEO). And Friday -- less than four months after the announcement of Eberhard's new title -- the company said Eberhard had "transitioned from the board of directors and executive management of the company to the advisory board."
In a Tesla Motor Club forum that Earth2Tech and others pointed to, Eberhard wrote that he was "not at all happy" with the way he had been treated and thought the transition wasn't what was best for the company, its customers or its investors.
Eberhard on Monday confirmed he had written the comments attributed to him on the site and described the situation as "complicated."
"There is a certain amount of politics and disagreement about how to transition from one CEO to another," he said.
Officials from Tesla Motor said they could not immediately comment on Eberhard's ouster.
The board decided last week to ask him to leave, Eberhard said, adding that Friday was his last day and that Tesla's staff threw him a spontaneous party.
He said he isn't upset about leaving the CEO position, but had hoped to continue to be part of the company he founded in 2003 (see this Q&A with Eberhard from 2006).
"It's very normal, in a startup company, that the founders are not the CEO," he said, pointing to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are still members of the search giant's board. "When I started the company, from day one I knew that I would be out [once we grew larger]. But I do believe I add a lot of value to the company without being the guy that calls all the operating shots."
After all, Eberhard said, he designed the vision of the company and is familiar with all the technical aspects about the Roadster and its overall direction. He also has been the public face of the company.
While Eberhard said he doesn't know exactly why he was kicked out, he implied that disagreement may have arisen from the company's transmission problems.
Tesla has delayed the release of its production vehicle several times because of transmission problems.
"Starting a car company's very hard and it may not have exactly gone according to plan, but think about what that plan was -- something I wrote five years ago," he said. "I've done pretty well. Obviously, the transmission [issues] weren't part of the plan. But some people say, 'Let's deal with the problems and move on,' while other people think we need a more radical approach to solve the problem."
Tesla's new direction isn't clear yet, he said.
But Eberhard said he remains very hopeful for the company, adding he's still got Tesla stock and believes electric cars can help the world.
"It's still a great team of people with a great product," he said.
As for himself, Eberhard said he hasn't yet decided what he'll do next. After all, he didn't plan to leave yet. But he said he is still very interested in the problems with global warming and transportation and hopes to continue working to solve them at another company.
It's apparent he's still going to follow Tesla's progress, however.
On the Tesla Motor Club forum, Eberhard said he plans to post a blog at www.teslafounders.com and he also is using an e-mail address at that domain.
He said he's proud that Tesla has inspired other companies to reconsider the electric car, including General Motors Corp. (see U.S. News & World Report interview with vice chairman Bob Lutz).
"The world needs to see something besides gasified cars and I hope Tesla leads the way," Eberhard said. "I hope they remember that they have a responsibility."