Way back in 2006, Elon Musk publicly posted his Secret Master Plan which he summed up this way:
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
Don’t tell anyone.
In those days almost no one had heard of Tesla and the company had not sold a single car. The last successful American car company was Chrysler, founded in 1925. Since that time, every other American automotive startup had failed. Car industry analysts that were aware of Tesla paid almost no attention to it and established auto industry executives like Bob Lutz at GM belittled it.
The 2008 Tesla Roadster was the “sports car” initial part of the “Secret Plan”. The first long distance EV ever made, it had an EPA range rating of 244 miles and did 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. The 54kWh battery pack was comprised of 6,381 little lithium ion cells wired together. People were astounded. They were also astounded by the price, which started at $120,000, due to the very limited production volume (ultimately just 2,400 Roadsters were made) and the huge amount of labor required to build a car design that had never been done before and that Tesla could not afford to automate.
Despite the stratospheric price, hundreds of people put down their money for a Roadster years before the cars were delivered. It was a perilous time for Tesla and the little company almost went bankrupt in late 2008. Musk invested all the money he had left in Tesla and SpaceX at that time in hopes of saving both companies (SpaceX’s first three rocket launches had all failed) and later said it was the most intensely stressful period of his life.
Tesla survived (as did SpaceX) and sold enough Roadsters prove that there was a market for an EV that went fast and far. The next step, the “affordable car“, was the Model S sedan which launched in 2012 and was an immediate success, though at a base price of around $65,000 it was only slightly more affordable than a Roadster. Tesla’s internal forecasts said they might be able to sell a total of about 25,000 of them (over 10 times the number of Roadsters sold) before moving on to their next lower cost model.
In fact, by December 2013 (when my wife and I bought one) Tesla had sold more than 27,000 Model S, and to date has sold over 200,000 at an average selling price of about $90,000. No automotive company has ever sold anywhere near that many cars in that price range! The Model S was far more sophisticated than the Roadster, and a heck of a lot bigger.
People were starting to understand that a well-designed EV was a fundamentally better car than a traditional ICE car (Internal Combustion Engine). Plus, the high speed Tesla Supercharger Network made long distance travel easy. A few other manufacturers offered EVs, like the Nissan Leaf, but they were all limited in range to well under 100 miles and they had no fast DC charging, so they were not suitable as primary cars and were essentially useless for long distance travel.
Of course the Model S was not a mass market car, and Tesla never intended to restrict itself to selling cars to the wealthy. Even while designing and launching a variant of the Model S, the Model X SUV in 2015, Tesla was busy developing the “even more affordable car” (the third step in the plan) which it called the Model 3. Priced starting at $35,000, with a minimum EPA-rated range of 215 miles and a 0-60 time of under 6 seconds, it went into production on July 7, 2017 and looks to be capable of upending the auto industry forever. Below is a photo Tesla released a few days ago of the first Model 3. Read more about the Tesla Model 3.