Photos by Winni Wintermeyer for Fortune
The crazy, real-life story of how the CEO of electric-car maker Tesla dazzled, seduced, squeezed, bluffed, manipulated, and prodded his way to epic state incentives to build a massive battery plant in the Nevada desert.
It’s hard to overstate the mystique surrounding Elon Musk these days. He has been, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. At 43, he’s the CEO of Tesla Motors, an electric-car company so white-hot that it speaks of someday vanquishing the internal combustion engine. He’s chairman of, whose panels hold the promise of helping save the world from global warming and fossil fuels. His rocket company, SpaceX, wants to travel to Mars. Never mind that such audacious goals won’t be realized for decades, if ever. Musk’s brilliance, his vision, and the breadth of his ambition make him the one-man embodiment of the future.
The frenzy that attends his stature was visible on Oct. 9, when Musk unveiled two enhancements to Tesla’s Model S before 4, 000 people at an airport in Hawthorne, Calif. Musk took the spotlit outdoor stage at 9 p.m.—an hour late, like a rock star—wearing a black velvet blazer. Smartphones flashed; bloggers live-streamed his jokes. Standing in front of his image on a giant videoscreen, Musk showed off the model’s four-wheel drive and autopilot features.
Musk wowed the crowd with the 0, 000 sedan, which goes 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. “It’s like taking off from a carrier deck, ” he said. Musk took reporters for a ride, leaving them slack-jawed at the S’s acceleration and technology. No matter that, as others pointed out, competitors already have some auto-drive capabilities. As Charlie Rose put it on CBS This Morning, “Elon Musk is the kind of guy you want to invest in.”
Millions have done just that. Since the start of 2013, Tesla’s stock has soared 614%, producing a market cap of $30 billion—more than half the value of GM, which is expected to sell 10 million vehicles in 2014, compared with Tesla’s 33, 000. The company has produced a stellar sedan—Consumer Reports scored it higher than any other car it has ever tested—and Musk’s achievements justify accolades: He co-founded PayPal and has made billions; SpaceX has made multiple missions to the International Space Station. (All of this was enough to make him Fortune’s and he’s on, too.)
Elon Musk: Biography of a Self-Made Visionary, Entrepreneur and Billionaire (Investing, Entrepreneurship, Success, Innovators, Great Men, Success Principles, Business Advice)
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