Tesla Motors: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Tesla Motors

Unusual in the car business, Tesla Motors does no advertising and has no agency of record. Instead, the private, plug-in electric car outfit in Silicon Valley's San Carlos, has relied on the internet, word-of-mouth and CEO-co-founder Elon Musk. The South African-born entrepreneur is the reluctant face of Tesla. He described himself as "basically an engineer" whose "intrinsic nature is to be introverted."

Mr. Musk is regularly out stumping for his electric cars at conferences, with reporters and at the handful of company-owned dealerships in the U.S. and abroad. He made an appearance this year on David Letterman, who invited him after buying a Tesla Roadster. Tesla's Roadster has gotten visibility from appearing for free in 2008's "Iron Man" movie, BlackBerry ads and a coming California Tourism blitz.

From late March to mid-May, Tesla attracted more than 1,000 people to plunk down $5,000 to reserve its next model, the all-electric Model S sedan, which will cost just under $50,000. It's a seven-seater, and production is planned to start in late 2011. There's now more than 800 Roadsters on the streets in the U.S. and Europe. Mr. Musk hopes it will be in the thousands soon.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla Motors
Owners include Arnold Schwarzenegger and "Who Killed the Electric Car" director Chris Paine, movie stars, Silicon Valley techies and business leaders. Podcaster and owner Adam Carolla dedicated a show to the car. "Our owners become our ambassadors," said Mr. Musk.

Tesla, named for inventor Nikola Tesla, recently reported $1 million of earnings on revenue of $20 million. Mr. Musk said he's never given a car away for free or at a discount -- an amazing situation in today's current auto climate.

Mr. Musk figures Tesla is getting "brand resonance" due to the rise in the environmental movement. "We're fortunate because we are at the center of the confluence of a product with high sexual appeal that in a sense helps save the world."

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