Why Elon Musk Thought Tesla Would Fail

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) Appearing on CBS program 60 Minutes means you've made it. Well, not only has Tesla Motors and CEO Elon Musk made it, but Musk is venturing to go where no one has gone before. Even if he goes broke doing it.

In an interview on 60 Minutes last night with Scott Pelley, Musk noted that he's been working on grand, ambitious plans not only to make money, but because they will further humanity. "If something's important enough, you should try, even if the probable outcome is failure," Musk said regarding risky projects, and Tesla in particular. During the interview, Musk noted he thought Tesla would likely fail, given the nascent state of electric vehicles at the time.

"Well, I didn't really think Tesla would be successful," Musk said. "I thought we would most likely fail. But I thought that we at least could address the false perception that people have that an electric car had to be ugly and slow and boring like a golf cart." 

That last line about changing the perception of electric vehicles is perhaps more important than the failure part, even if Tesla's initial investors probably weren't too thrilled hearing that. The electric vehicle had been around long before Tesla and the Model S, most notably with General Motors' EV1, which was produced from 1996 to 1999. The car, which was only leased (not sold) in California and a small program in Georgia, was hideous looking, resembling a space ship, a sort of golf cart of the future. Here's the car's Wikipedia page, for a trip down memory lane.

Now, Tesla courtesy of sleek design, and numerous awards, notably from Consumer Reports , is the undisputed leader in the electric vehicle market. In 2013, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla delivered over 20,000 Model S units, with 6,892 coming in the fourth quarter . In 2014, the company expects to deliver 35,000 units, as it ramps up deliveries in Europe, and eventually China. The company will also have a limited number of Model X production units on the road by the end of the year, with sales starting in 2015.

Also See: Tesla Model S Review: Precision, Luxury, and Power Redefined

Also See: Tesla's Model X: A First Look

Musk wants Tesla to get to over 500,000 units delivered per year, courtesy of the upcoming Gigafactory, which will cost Tesla and partners up to $5 billion, making more lithium-ion batteries than any other plant in the world. On Tesla's fourth-quarter earnings call, Musk noted Panasonic would be a potential partner for the plant, given the company's pre-exisiting deal with Tesla for lithium ion cell production, but so far, Panasonic has been non-committal about the investment in the plant.