News that Tesla will set up an outlet in New Zealand next year means, in a roundabout way, that the company is ‘coming home’. Why? Because if it wasn’t for a born-and-bred Kiwi the US electric carmaker might never have got off the ground.
Dargaville electronics engineer Ian Wright was working for a US telecommunications company in the early 1990s when he recognised that Tesla founder Martin Eberhard could indeed change the way the world moved on wheels.
These days Wright, aged 58, has his own US operation, Wrightspeed, which develops specialised powertrains for the trucking industry. But 25 years ago he and Eberhard were neighbours in California. They got to talking and soon Wright joined Eberhard and his business partner Marc Tarpenning to form the original Tesla team.
Wright steered development of its first battery-electric (EV) model, the Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster, before Tesla Motors was incorporated in 2003 and South African-born billionaire Elon Musk took control.
The Kiwi engineer set up two key partnerships for Tesla: the early engineering contract with Lotus and the licencing agreement with California company AC Propulsion for its electric motor and inverter technology.
Wright told a US magazine last year: “Part of what we set out to do in the beginning was to change the public perception of electric cars, because the public really did think like I did: they’re golf carts, aren’t they?
“That isn’t the public perception now at all. So I think Tesla’s already changed the world in pretty import ways about the perception of EVs … you have to say, to a large extent, that the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt and the Ford EVs are all a reaction what Tesla did.”
Tesla’s Sydney office has confirmed that it will open a sales centre and service centre and prepare sites for its quick-charge stations in New Zealand from around May next year. Where its main outlet will be hasn’t been announced.
The carmaker says it will carry both the Model S sedan and the all-wheel-drive Model X SUV and “give customers the opportunity to learn about and reserve the more affordable Tesla Model 3 sedan”. .
The S has been available in right-hand drive (RHD) for some time at – depending on specification – up to $180,000. RHD production of the X has just started. The 3 is yet to be built, although Tesla chief Musk has unveiled a prototype.
Tesla Powerwall and Powerpack products, currently available from installer Vector Energy, will also be available at the new location. Tesla said it will this week start hiring “local (NZ) talent who are passionate about the future of sustainable energy”.