Me & “Old Blue”: How The Original Tesla Roadster Helped Me Meet Myself Halfway When It Come To Serving “The Mission” Over Its Production Life-cycle

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In November of 2010, I was flown to Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters for my first round of interviews. It was the “Tesla Roadster Days,” when the company had just a fraction of its present strength. You could simply pull up and grab a parking spot right next to the structure. Later on, obtaining such a coveted parking lot would be like nabbing a seat on a subway during rush hour in New York City. Have fun with it. Tesla only had about 1,000 workers back then — a small group of brilliant badasses wanting to improve the world for the better who were nothing more than ragtag ruffians.

What a difference ten years makes. Tesla now employs over 70,000 people and is the most valuable automobile manufacturer in the world while also being the fastest-growing complex producer in history. From a small boutique firm in California to an industry-leading worldwide powerhouse in just 10 years, Tesla has retained its innovative culture. This commitment to innovation has allowed it to overcome seemingly unassailable hurdles on its route to becoming where it is today, and where it’s going. I thought I’d take a stroll down memory lane and tell some of my personal Tesla “Insider” stories about how the original Roadster, even though it was supposed to be discontinued in 2011, continued to support the Tesla Mission in its own little ways, starting with some context. But first, let’s go back to the beginning…

Tesla’s first vehicle was the Roadster, which introduced the company to the world. It was Tesla’s first consumer product, and it represented the start of Tesla’s vast “Secret Master Plan,” a road map for achieving its goal of accelerating the global shift to sustainable transportation and energy. It was a grandiose car with a big mission. The Roadster demonstrated that electric cars may be stylish, quick, have long range, and be so much more than simply glorified golf carts (which was the general perception at the time). Despite its low-volume status, the Roadster struck a chord with some entrenched automotive industry participants.

Even Bob Lutz, who was once the chairman of General Motors and one of Tesla’s fiercest detractors, credits the original Roadster as being the inspiration for GM to build the Volt, which was named Motor Trend’s 2011 “Car of the Year” and Bob’s swan song at General Motors. Traditional auto manufacturers, on the other hand, dismissed Tesla as a minor inconsequential niche player with an expensive and unproven technology, despite the fact that its debut ruffled a few cages. Because of this attitude, the large established OEMs chose not to immediately follow Tesla’s example and wait more than a decade later to when Tesla’s success would force their hands into going all-in on electric cars. The Roadster’s arrival in 2008 was, in the minds of many, Tesla’s initial real blunder.

However, history may provide a different perspective on this agonizing period of indecision… But that’s another tale. The Tesla Roadster was, in fact, the wider public’s first exposure to electric vehicle driving. For many individuals, the Roadster was what triggered them to become interested in Tesla and its cause. I was one of them. Hearing about the existence of the Roadster was a life-changing moment for me. Here was a fantastic, viable, all-electric sports car that was ecologically friendly and that you could actually buy (at a premium price point). It was something new and previously thought to be impossible. The Roadster planted a seed of desire in my mind like many other auto enthusiasts (who were also environmentalists), such as myself. “Someday I will have a Tesla” — however lofty the goal sounded at the time—rolled through my thoughts. Between 2008 and 2011, Tesla produced and sold around 2,500 Roadsters, laying the groundwork both conceptually and financially for its second vehicle, the even more ambitious Model S. The Model S built on the Roadster’s electric car performance tradition while adding luxury, practicality, and functionality.

It was a full-size luxury sports sedan that aimed to show that an electric vehicle could outperform a gasoline-powered vehicle in virtually every category. The Model S’s “skateboard” chassis and powertrain architecture gave it performance, storage, efficiency, and safety advantages that no gasoline-powered car in its class could match. Its instantaneous electric acceleration, innovative vehicle architecture, big touchscreen user interface, and ability to download free over-the-air updates (which constantly improve performance and functionality) shocked the automobile industry. It was more than simply a new entry in the vehicle history book; it marked the beginning of a whole new chapter. The Model S would go on to become Tesla’s first car to grace the covers of prominent publications such as The New York Times and Time magazine. It won four prestigious awards, including Car of the Year from Motor Trend. Later, Motor Trend went so far as to call the Model S the finest automobile they had ever tested in their 75-year history. It is an accolade of great importance. For the next several years, the Model S would take center stage in Tesla’s incredible success tale. To many people, this was when the Roadster’s contributions to that success story came to an end — it was handed off to a new four-door car. However, from my own experience, I believe that the Roadster’s contributions to Tesla’s success story were just beginning.

As you know, Tesla had flown me out to California for a series of interviews in November of 2010, but I didn’t officially begin working there until the Model S launch program in 2012. On the first day of my training at the Tesla Fremont factory in California, all of the new recruits were lined up outside and given a “Glacier Blue” Tesla Roadster to drive around the test track. It was like riding a thrill ride at an amusement park. It was like drinking from Kool-Aid’s literal cup. The message was clear: “We create bad-ass electric cars that will change the world.” A day was set aside for us to each get some serious time behind the wheel (of another “Glacier Blue” Roadster) and enjoy the majesty of instant torque through hilly backcountry roads that twisted around Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters as part of our training.

It was a fantastic method to educate us, assisting us in acquiring a greater understanding of Tesla’s product principles and also more thorough experience with them. I became very close with the cars, and I don’t just mean metaphorically when I say “close.” There wasn’t enough office furniture at Tesla HQ to accommodate the influx of new workers that were coming on board in preparation for the Model S launch and production/delivery ramp during that summer. The inexperienced among us frequently had to make do with whatever area we could cram ourselves into. For me, that area was often a Roadster rolling chassis on display in Tesla’s Deer Creek headquarters’ main gallery. Here comes the (electric) cavalry! Every waking hour for me and my team over the next year was spent in and around Tesla’s new star, the Model S. We personally delivered each of them (via truck and trailer) to the residences of their eagerly awaiting owners all throughout New York State.

The challenges we faced were numerous, but our resolve and creativity helped us surmount them. For weeks after the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, all gas stations throughout the New York City region were down. Even when electricity was eventually restored to the area, many gas stations remained dark for weeks longer. This meant that we had no diesel fuel available to power our delivery trucks, which towed electric vehicles to our clients. As a result, we devised a strategy where we would transport the Model S (with permission from the client) to their residence. We needed to figure out how to get our Tesla team member back to base after the delivery. Customers’ houses were frequently outside of New York City Transit’s service area, and there were no viable transportation alternatives such as cabs or (recently established) Uber due to the gasoline crisis.

To address this, we devised a plan where one of us would drive the Model S and another would drive in a chase vehicle so that the teammate driving the S could get a ride home after completing the delivery. The only available and capable chase car was a Roadster that had just been traded in for a Model S by someone else. Customers were thrilled to see the Roadster in their Model S delivery. They considered it a nice little bonus to their Tesla delivery experience to have the legendary original Tesla there for them as they unpacked their vehicle — a kind of “passing of the torch” in terms of sentiment. It was born out of practicality and an operational method for problem solving that is rooted in first principles thinking, which is ingrained into Tesla’s corporate DNA.

It was a strange experience for me to caravan the Tesla and Roadster around customers’ homes: it’s two electric vehicles quietly whirring through the eerily empty streets of New York City, past mile-long queues of gasoline cars queued up at the few gas stations that were allotted to operate under an emergency gas rationing mechanism enacted by Mayor Bloomberg. Fate does seem to have a sense of humor. Make the most of what you’ve got I had no idea that several months later, I would meet the owner of that same Roadster. My wife and I had been thinking about moving to Sarasota for a long time after seeing my in-laws at their winter home there. My wife’s Roadster appearance was interpreted by me as a prophetic sign, confirming that exploring down there should be explored further. In 2013, fate would prove it possible.

That summer, I joined Tesla’s “Asset-Lite” program, which is a tiny expeditionary unit of the company’s sales staff. I dubbed the role the “Johnny Appleseed of Tesla,” referring to a lone pioneer spreading Tesla’s rEVolutionary ideas across the countryside. My wife and I packed up and moved from New York City to Sarasota, Florida. In addition to wanting to go there regardless, Sarasota was an excellent site for conducting operations because of the goal in mind. The city of Sarasota, Florida, is an exclusive metropolis nestled between Tampa to the north and Naples to the south on Florida’s sun-drenched “Suncoast.” For this report, I was given a high-end Model S marketing vehicle so that I could do test drives, host marketing events, and use it as my personal daily driver. Because there were no brick-and-mortar sales locations in that region, test drives were usually done at the customer’s home/office or at the original boutique-sized Tesla service center in Tampa.

I routinely opened up my online store once a week on Sunday nights to sell my real marketing automobile as an “inventory car.” This recurring event not only temporarily deprived me of my main selling implement; it also left me without any means of transportation. I didn’t have a vehicle of my own outside the Model S that Tesla gave me at the time. It might take a few days for Tesla to deliver a freshly constructed replacement from its factory in California, or for me to steal one from the Miami team’s test drive fleet. The stars, as they say, aligned when I needed them the most. As fate would have it, the answer to these gaps in my mobility came in the form of a “Glacier Blue” Roadster that had been traded in for a Model S some time ago. It’s been hidden away in a storage area at the Tampa service center ever since someone traded it in for a Model S. Even though I didn’t own a Model S to sell, I wanted to keep serving Tesla Kool Aid with “Old Blue,” which I affectionately called

The Roadster and the Model S were two completely different cars with the same electric motor. One was a tiny, raw, seat-of-the-pants two-seater; and the other was a full-size, four-door, high-tech luxury sedan. They were like apples and oranges in terms of automobile comparison. But it was all I needed to talk about Tesla: the instantaneous torque and continual linear thrust that an electric motor offers. That was enough for me to spread the Tesla gospel around.

Old Blue was everywhere I went (even with my wife, who had the patience of a saint), and if someone expressed interest in Old Blue, I’d give them a quick ride. It made no difference where it was; the theatre, the grocery store — anywhere. Every person who looked at me was either a potential customer or an EV convert-to-be; I was always on the clock, offering people a taste of that wonderful Tesla Kool Aid. I was immodest. I’d “park it like a pimp” right in front of the restaurant whenever possible, whether we were going out to eat or not. I’d park it on the sidewalk if I could get away with it. To have to practically trip over the car in order to enter the facility, I wanted people to have to do so. The Roadster was a rolling advertisement that I constantly jockeyed for maximum exposure, and it worked flawlessly. People would frequently come up and ask about it wherever I went, whether coming or going, which led into conversations about electric cars’ advantages. I used one of my business cards to place it in the window seal of the driver-side door.

At traffic lights, I would get into pole position and give the cars around me a quick show of electric instantaneous torque. As far as I’m concerned, it’s my duty as an EV ambassador to extinguish gas vehicles at the light (just to the speed limit, of course). Over time, someone would come in to the Tesla store to buy a car and tell me how they tried drag racing a Tesla in their high-end sports vehicle; only to be left in the dust. They deliberated as follows: “I’ve got to have one of those things!” now, I’m not implying that every little traffic light drag race was me — of course not — but I definitely encouraged the local Tesla community to engage in “exhibitionist ambassadorship.”

Naturally, I had to actually sell vehicles in the near term so that Tesla might pay its bills and grow, but the conventional “make a quick sale” mentality was not how I approached introducing someone to Tesla. It was more like a VIP tour of an incredible new world of transportation than a sales pitch. It didn’t matter whether or not they were looking for a automobile right then. It made no difference whether I was playing with a high-end luxury sports car or an inexpensive base-level automobile. I was engaged in two separate activities.

I knew that many of the folks I gave rides to were unable to afford a car at the moment (or any time soon), but I saw myself in them. I knew that when they experienced Tesla electric vehicle performance for themselves, the same “seed of desire” that was planted in me would be similarly planted in them. The want to spread this seed as widely as possible is what motivates me. It’s a good feeling to be part of something greater than yourself, especially when you’re making money. I knew that if the seed sprouted that day, or in the next ten years, the same motto that had resonated with me would also resonate with them: “Someday I will have a Tesla.”

I experienced that unique moment when the “seed of desire” was planted hundreds of times while sitting in the driver’s seat giving a ride or sitting in the front passenger seat during a test drive. It was without doubt the most gratifying job experience I’ve had. STOCK DISCLOSURE & DISCLAIMER: From 2012 to 2019, I was given and optioned thousands of shares of $TSLA stock at $5 per share (post split). I’m long on Tesla with a multimillion-dollar stake; however, for years, I will not sell any portion of my position. I do not provide investment advice, and any material I produce should not be interpreted as such. Always conduct your own investigation before investing.

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