Back in 2009, the plug-in vehicle world was surprised to learn that Daimler had invested $50 million in Tesla Motors. What we didn't know at the time was that the money came deus ex machina style just before the EV startup reaper was about to knock. Turns out, Tesla's financial situation was much worse back then than anyone realized.
We recently spent an hour interviewing Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and when we asked about the money, Musk said, "The credit for saving Tesla should go to Daimler. It was the Daimler investment that saved Tesla in early 2009. ... 2007 and 2008 were especially bad for us. ... There were a couple of near-death situations."
Those near-death situations include the time Musk needed to funnel a lot of his personal capital into Tesla – "I literally had to borrow money for rent" – in order to get through 2008 and early 2009. Having run through a lot of his own money, he appreciated Daimler was investing in Tesla even though Daimler itself was cash strapped. "When someone is hungry themselves and they give you a bit of food, you've got to be grateful for that."
Musk added that Tesla's financial situation today is "pretty good," and that the company has "a couple hundred million dollars" in reserve. As long as there aren't a "bunch of screw-ups," then the automaker should be in good financial shape, he said.
Stay tuned for more from our one-on-one interview, including the full transcript, later this week.