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Charity will be big winner of Tesla bet

A war of words between the automaker's founder and a car reviewer over whether the electric Model S sedan will hit its delivery date will result in $1 million going to Doctors Without Borders.

September 06, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • Tesla is on target to begin deliveries of the luxury electric Model S, above, in the middle of 2012, company founder Elon Musk said.
Tesla is on target to begin deliveries of the luxury electric Model S, above,… (David Dewhurst, Tesla )

An email war of words between tech entrepreneur Elon Musk of Tesla Motors Inc. and a prominent automotive journalist will turn into a $1-million payday for Doctors Without Borders, the international medical charity.

Car reviewer Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal and Musk have been trading oral and email barbs over whether Tesla will be able to bring out its Model S luxury electric sedan on schedule and at the claimed price. Musk is the chief executive of Palo Alto-based Tesla as well as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne rocket company.

The pair fired emails off to each other offering to make a bet, with the proceeds going to charity. And while the terms and the odds were spelled out — Neil would put up $1,000 to Musk's $1 million — both agree that they never shook hands or formally consummated the wager.

"I'm still game if Elon is," said Neil, a former Los Angeles Times car critic who in 2004 won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism for his automobile reviews.

It turns out that Musk is, but with a slight change. "I will put the car out and give $1 million to Doctors Without Borders," Musk told The Times. "I don't really need a bet to give money away. I have a foundation that gives away money every year. I think Doctors Without Borders is a good cause, so sure, I will do this. Dan should chip in $1,000 too."

Musk made a fortune when he sold online payment business PayPal Inc. in 2002.

Tesla is on target to begin deliveries of the Model S in the middle of 2012, Musk said.

Musk is so confident of hitting the schedule for the car that he has invited 3,000 customers to see the Model S prototypes and tour Tesla's factory in Fremont, Calif. Customers will get ride-alongs that give them a feel for the acceleration, handling, fit and finish of the sedan.

"We will show all of them the capabilities of the car," Musk said.

He said the prototypes, called "beta vehicles," are "essentially indistinguishable from the production cars. The body panels are all the same stamped aluminum, and the components are the same."

The sedan will be Tesla's second car. It currently produces the two-seat Roadster, a sports car that sells for more than $100,000.

The Model S will start at $57,400, less a $7,500 federal tax credit, and have three battery pack options that will provide 160, 230 and 300 miles per charge. Each additional increment in range will add about $10,000 to the price, Musk said.

It will offer ample seating for five adults, and in some configurations room for an extra two children's seats. The Model S will have some zip, with an anticipated zero-to-60 acceleration of less than six seconds.

Tesla plans to start production with 1,000 of the 300-mile range version and follow with the other models.

Tesla also is working with Toyota Motor Corp., a major shareholder in the company, to bring out an electric version of the RAV4 small sport-utility vehicle next year.

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