Tesla Rewind: April 2012 — Tesla Roadmap, Aerodynamics, Vertical Integration, Major Shareholder Stock Dump

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Sometimes it feels like the Tesla Model S popped onto the scene yesterday. Sometimes it feels like it’s been decades. It was in fact nearly 8 years ago. I thought it would be interesting to look back at Tesla coverage back then to reflect on how Tesla has grown and matured as well as how media coverage of Tesla has morphed. Below are stories that showed up on the first page of Google search results for “Tesla” when locked into the April 2012 timeframe as well as one CleanTechnica highlight.

Tesla Opens Store in Norway

We’ve published 5,630 articles tagged “Tesla” (or 5,631 if you count this one). Though, we didn’t really start covering the company closely until the Model S landed. In April of 2012, our only article with the “Tesla” tag was a news roundup that mentioned Tesla was opening a showroom and service center in Norway. In fact, Tesla actually put out a press release about that via a major press release service. Imagine Tesla doing that today. Tesla hardly ever puts out press releases, and the opening of a showroom and service center is tiny news these days. Plus, we all know that CEO Elon Musk can just type out a quick tweet about anything large or small and it will generate dozens or hundreds — or even thousands — of headlines.

The other crazy thing about that news is remembering how young and small the Norwegian EV market was back in 2012 compared to today. The Norwegian EV market today, the world leader in EV market share, saw 75% of all new vehicle sales coming with a plug last month. In all of 2019, the Tesla Model 3 wasn’t just the best selling electric vehicle and it wasn’t just the best selling car in Norway — it was the best selling passenger vehicle of any class or kind. In fact, it had more than 50% more sales than the #2 Volkswagen Golf, which included the fossil-powered Golf as well as the e-Golf. EV market share was approximately 3% in Norway in 2012, compared to 56% in 2019 — and, as just noted, it was 75% last month.

EV market share from 2012 to 2019 in top 4 EV adopting countries. An interactive version is on the bottom of this article.

Abu Dhabi Sold the ~7% Share of Tesla [TSLA] the Emirati Owned

When I published a story on this in January of 2019, approximately a year after collecting the information from someone very highly positioned in the UAE as well as confirming it with someone at Tesla who would certainly know that history, I thought it was 100% a CleanTechnica exclusive. I couldn’t find anything about it online. Apparently, though, with very narrow parameters set in Google, I could have collected a little more information on the story. Reuters published a piece in April 2012 indicating that Abu Dhabi National Energy Co (TAQA) had just sold its 7,297,139 shares of Tesla (TSLA). While the company did not indicate how much it cost to buy the shares, and it was noted the shares came to TAQA via the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, it was stated that TAQA made $113 million on the stock dump. It was also mentioned that Abu Dhabi, through Aabar Investments, was the top investor in Daimler, which owned a portion of Tesla at the time.

What was not noted in April 2012 was the backstory behind the sale. I was told the story in person while visiting the UAE — or at least one version of the story. The person who told it to me passed it along as a funny side story. According to this person, it originated with an email from Elon Musk. He mentioned there were some hard times to come and said that although investors would need to hold on for a while (more than a year) while Tesla struggled through a difficult period, everything would work out well in the end if they stuck with Tesla. Abu Dhabi apparently got spooked and sold all of its shares in TSLA the next day. The person who told me the story indicated that was simply the obvious thing for high-level investors like that to do when receiving such an email. (Note that I did not see the email to judge how it was represented.) Considering where Tesla had gotten by early 2018 when the primary source told me the story, it was a humorous (and, to me, shocking) story because of how much money Abu Dhabi could have made if it had held onto the stock.

On April 5, 2012, Tesla stock was priced at $34.48. If you multiply that by 7,297,139 shares, the total would have been $251,605,352, or about $251.6 million. If you multiply that number of shares by the $573 closing price of yesterday, that would be $4,181,260,647, or about $4.2 billion. Wow.

I’d like to think if I was in those shoes I would have held onto the money, but there’s probably a high chance I would have sold at some point much below $573 if not back in 2012. It’s hard to consider that hypothetical since we have no idea what they knew and what they didn’t not — and we can’t really take ourselves out of 2020 and ignore everything that has happened since 2012. Oh yeah, plus, I never had so much money to throw around.

Needless to say, people who had Tesla shares in 2012 and held onto them have done very well. Kudos to you!

Tesla Robots & Vertical Integration

Another top Tesla story in my Google search results was an MIT Technology Review story titled “Building Tesla.” The subtitle: “At its electric-car factory in Silicon Valley, Tesla obsesses over details like making its own high-tech tools.” Hmm, sounds a bit like today.

Tesla’s propensity for vertical integration and technological innovation is now seen as a major factor of advantage for the still young and relatively small automaker. Instead of a few technology and auto outlets sitting in a corner talking about the new kid on the block, much of the business, tech, auto, environmental, and even broader world associate Tesla with tech leadership and giant factories. Congratulations to MIT Technology Review’s Timothy Maher for reading the tea leaves so well back in early 2012.

Tesla Home Battery? Crazy Idea?

Speaking of early leadership covering Tesla, one of my former editors, Michael Graham Richard of TreeHugger, wrote about an early partnership between SolarCity and Tesla in which Tesla contributed battery tech for home energy storage solutions. I have to acknowledge — the early Tesla battery was far less pretty than today’s. (Not that the Tesla Powerwall is a Monet.) I’m sure the specs were also far worse than what you get with today’s technology, but those details weren’t included in the article to do a quick comparison.

Tesla Investor Presentation

Tesla released an investor presentation in early 2012 that is fascinating to look at now. We could spend all day on the 29 pages and how things have turned out. I’ll just touch on a few slides.

First of all, it’s hard not to laugh at the Roadster being deemed the “foundation for success.” Sure, it was the foundation in a sense. However, looking back from today, it looks more like an oddly shaped stone that was a tiny portion of Tesla’s foundation. In fact, depending on how you look at it, the Model 3 could still be seen as part of the foundation stage of the company’s development.

Further into the presentation, Tesla indicated that the Model S, not yet in a single customer’s hands, was supposed to be an “exceptional” vehicle. Well, that didn’t turn out so well, did it?

Just kidding! Indeed, Tesla’s slides on the Model S “redefining” what it meant to be a premium sedan were as Nostradamic as it gets in this industry.

Tesla also touched on the futuristic Model X, expected eventual annual sales of those models (20,000 for the Model S and 10,000–15,000 for the Model X), Model S reservations, an eventual “lower priced third generation platform” (which is basically the Model 3 and Model Y), and more.

What’s most interesting about the whole slide deck is that Tesla did almost precisely what it indicated it would do. It rolled out the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 (as it is now called) at the basic price points and specs (or better) that it anticipated back in 2012. Despite showing its game plan, Tesla’s vehicles have been unique and unmatched in the industry since birth. And they seem to have been more revolutionary than even Elon Musk and others at Tesla presumed.

Tesla Model S Aerodynamics

Aerodynamics has long been an advantage Tesla’s vehicles show over others. That makes the cars more efficient, which can lead to more range on a full charge, more features, and/or stronger performance. SAE International had a report on Model S aerodynamics way back in April 2012. You have to pay for the report, but here are a couple of paragraphs from the introductory article:

“Following aerodynamic optimization at the overall shape level, focus switched to optimization of production parts, and every external component of the Model S has been examined in great detail searching for aerodynamic performance, since areas that may seem insignificant in isolation can rapidly accumulate to have a substantial impact on the whole.

“The innovative architecture of the Model S platform allows for an entirely flat floor between the axles. This has substantial aerodynamic benefits but also brings with it its own challenges in managing the faster airflow beneath the vehicle, particularly around the wheels. In addition, the Model S employs multi-stage active management of the cooling airflow intakes and vehicle ride height in order to maximize its aerodynamic performance over its entire operational envelope. This holistic approach to optimization has resulted in class-leading aerodynamic performance for the Model S and has a very substantial benefit on vehicle efficiency and overall range.”

Electric Infiniti Concept Car Possibly “Tesla’s Worst Nightmare.”

Or Not.

Not even getting into Tesla’s whole mission and why a compelling electric Infiniti would be a win, not a nightmare, for Tesla, the most notable point about this story from Green Car Reports is just that it’s one of thousands of “Tesla nightmare” or “Tesla killer” articles that have been written over the years about some fantasy future in which legacy automakers develop electric cars that are a large leap ahead of Tesla’s and thus threaten Tesla’s existence. Well, I guess what’s logical about the title of that story is that nightmares aren’t real and neither was the electric Infiniti. However, I don’t think Tesla exuded any beads of sweat from fear of the vaporware anyway.

The vehicle concept was an Infiniti LE, with a touch of the Nissan LEAF in it. The car would have been produced in Tennessee, might have had a base price of — oh, never mind, it doesn’t matter.

Tesla the Band

The YouTube videos that were highlighted for my time-constrained Google search of “Tesla” told me that the most popular Tesla-related videos in April 2012 were videos from a 1980s rock band named Tesla. One is a video from one of the guitarists and one video is an interview with a couple of the other guys from the band.

There was also a trailer for a 2014 movie titled Free Energy of Tesla. (Of course, the movie was about Nikola Tesla, not Tesla Motors.)

Final Tidbits

The final thing on the first page of search results was a Tesla blog post about cold weather testing of the Model S. For some reason, though, what actually showed up in the Google results was a portion of the Swiss version of Tesla’s blog. But we’re deep in the weeds now, so let’s wrap this up.

Here’s that interactive sales graph I mentioned above:

If it doesn’t show on your phone, try a larger computer.

Want to buy a Tesla Model 3, Model S, or Model X? Feel free to use my referral code to get some free Supercharging miles with your purchase: https://ts.la/zachary63404You can also get a $250 discount on Tesla solar with that code.

Related: Tesla Flashbacks

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7398 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan