DESIGN West preview: Tesla CTO keynoting on EV innovation
Charles Murray, Design News - March 16, 2012
UBM, host of the event, said it chose Straubel as a keynote speaker because he and Tesla embody the spirit of countless Silicon Valley startups. "We've wanted Tesla to speak here for a couple of years," says Colin Holland, content director for DESIGN West. "There's a lot of interest in this subject among engineers."
Straubel, who won the Design News Engineer of the Year Award in 2009, launched his career at 14, when he began rebuilding electric golf carts in Egg Harbor, WI. Because he didn't have a driver's license, Straubel coaxed his mother to criss-cross the state with him in search of batteries, tires, and electric motors.
A graduate of Stanford University's School of Engineering, Straubel created his own academic major in systems engineering at the school before joining Tesla on the ground floor in 2004. He spearheaded its development of the Roadster two-seat electric sports car, which he envisioned from the beginning as a car with an all-electric driving range of 250 miles. The Environmental Protection Agency later rated the $109,000 Roadster's range at 244 miles.
Though Tesla and Straubel have gained a reputation as the face of innovation in the electric car market, the journey hasn't always been smooth. In 2008, Newsweek reported that the first 40 Roadsters left the factory with drivetrains that needed to be replaced. More recently, Tesla faced a highly public problem when a Roadster owner left it low on charge and unplugged for about two months, permanently damaging the 990-pound battery pack. According to the New York Times, Tesla sent the owner a letter offering a replacement battery for "around $40,000." Straubel told the paper, "If you ran your conventional engine without oil, whose fault would it be? It would be the owner's."
Colleagues have said Straubel has played a critical role in the development of the Roadster and the Model S. They say he sees Tesla's tasks as part of a mission to prove the viability of pure electric vehicles.
"It really feels like we're trying to change the world," Straubel told us in 2009. "There's a real David and Goliath feel to it."
DESIGN West conference information:
DESIGN West comprises seven summits. The conference takes place March 26-29 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA.
This story was originally posted by Design News.