Bernard Tse, a former Tesla Motors Vice President and board member, founded Atieva in 2007 after leaving Tesla. The company was first setup to make software to manage battery packs and package their tech for a cell agnostic battery pack technology, but they evolved while operating in “stealth mode” for the past few years, now we learn they have been working on not only the batteries, but a complete electric vehicle.
The company describes the vehicle as a “breakthrough electric car”. They don’t want to elaborate and It’s hardly a confirmation, but looking at the animation on their website, their vehicle might be a 2-door sport car.
What is really exciting about this news is that it could actually happen. The car industry is famously capital-intensive and therefore extremely hostile to startups. Before Tesla Motors, the last successful American car startup was Chrysler founded almost a century ago. We all remember the story of DeLorean Motor Company who only managed to produce about 9,000 cars before folding. More recently and in the EV market, Fisker Automotive produced 2,450 Fisker Karma before filing for bankruptcy.
Tesla Motors broke the curse. They successfully started producing the Roadster in 2008, not without difficulties, but they managed to deliver about 2,600 Roadsters through 2011. The model went out of production after the end of their glider supply contract with Lotus, but they went on to produce the Model S of which they have delivered more than 66,000 units since 2012.
It took a lot of money for Tesla to achieve success and this is where things look encouraging for Atieva. Tesla raised more than $100 million before delivering their first car to a customer. According to Crunchbase, Atieva raised more than $131 million since their inception. This is an impressive amount for a company still considered to be in “stealth mode”. Although the company already had funding and some deals to supply battery packs to EV makers, it looks like the majority of the money was raised during the last year, presumably to finance their vehicle program.
It’s easy to draw parallels between Tesla and Atieva. They are both located in Silicon Valley. Much like Tesla who is supplying battery packs and drivetrains to Daimler and previously to Toyota, Atieva originally aimed at supplying battery packs to car manufacturers. But where Atieva resembles Tesla the most is through their workforce. The company is employing a lot of expats from Tesla.
Bernard Tse, Atieva’s founder and CEO, was on Tesla’s board from 2003 to 2007 and he headed Tesla’s short lived energy division in 2007. Coincidently, Tesla brought back its energy division in a big way last month. Tse resigned from the board to head the “Tesla Energy Group”, but left not long after Martin Eberhard, then Tesla’s CEO and longtime friend of Tse, was ousted and replaced. Tesla reorganized to adjust their worrying cash burn at the time and focused on the Tesla Roadster instead of “Tesla Energy”.
Tse left and founded Atieva with Sam Weng, the founder of Astoria Networks. They were first backed by VC firm Venrock in 2009 when their focus was suppling battery pack technologies to car manufacturers.
Mike Harrigan is another former Tesla employee now working for Atieva. Harrigan has a master degree in Mechanical Engineering and he was VP of Marketing at Tesla before leaving for the new venture.
The company said they will reveal more details about their electric vehicle in the coming months. We will be following any developments. Also, Tse is not the only Tesla alumni still active in the EV industry.