Billionaire JB Straubel, who co-founded Tesla Motors with Elon Musk in 2003, said he will now spend his days helping new self-driving car startup Lucid Motors. Straubel resigned from Tesla’s board of directors and will spend a “significant amount of time” at Lucid, which launched its first battery-powered prototype this week.
As president of Lucid Motors, Straubel will lead the company’s effort to develop and market a fully electric car, which he envisions as a follow-up to the Tesla Model S. His passion for electric cars was inspired by his experience helping bring the first Tesla car, the Roadster, to market in 2008. “I actually took over where Tesla and Elon had left off,” he told Bloomberg on Monday.
Tesla denies that Straubel is leaving as a result of the boardroom battle over the company’s board of directors – which will be decided after Tesla shareholders vote on a proposed debt restructuring on 4 October. “We think Mr. Straubel is successfully refocusing his time and attention to Lucid,” a Tesla spokeswoman said.
Although the Tesla board is negotiating Musk’s seat on the board, it is still understood that Straubel will stay on the Tesla board for at least a few more months to work on getting that secured.
Tesla insists Straubel remains important to the company as a director. “JB’s mandate from Tesla has always been and continues to be to guide and lead Tesla’s product development and industrial design efforts,” a Tesla spokeswoman said. “JB is a very important figure in the Tesla mission and has many more wonderful years of impact ahead of him.”
But some who know the two men say Straubel’s primary role has always been to help Musk on Tesla’s technology side – an important part of the company’s drive to build a mass-market car, a goal Musk wants to achieve by 2020. “JB was always kind of a DJ of Tesla,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie Capital. “He was the music guy. He was like a marketing guy. But Tesla wants to take their auto show to the next level. It’s no longer just a laptop-based company, which is probably why [the move] comes as a shock.”
Schachter said that some at Tesla have described Straubel as “the quiet guy who actually helps build the cars”.
With Thiel’s backing, Lucid Motors has developed its own brand of battery-powered electric cars. Tesla has already launched its own Supercharger network to support its Model S.
The company is using a bus-sized battery on the prototype, which will be capable of 150 miles of electric range. Straubel says the final version will likely feature a far larger battery pack, which could allow it to travel up to 300 miles before recharging.
The bus-sized battery pack would require considerable investment, but the tiny prototype shows Lucid could easily fund its development.
Lucid’s prototype is smaller and lighter than the vehicles it wants to sell. It’s an early effort, and the company has no production schedule or manufacturing partners – although it is talking to companies such as Volkswagen, the biggest auto maker in the world, about the possibility of joining the charge for electric car production.
“I get the sense that the entity that builds the car is the one that really needs the money,” said Kirk Baert, an analyst at brokerage firm Renaissance Capital.