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Tesla co-founder walks away

The brains behind Tesla has quit.

J.B. Straubel, chief technical officer for the electric car company, has announced his departure from the brand he helped establish alongside Elon Musk. While Musk is the colourful front-man for Tesla, Straubel was the brains of the operation and is the man credited with convincing Musk that lithium-ion batteries were the key to a successful electric vehicle.

While he will remain tied to the company in an advisory role, Straubel’s decision to leave is another blow to the car maker, coming at the same time it announced it lost US$408m ($590m) in the second quarter of 2019; although in fairness to Tesla, that’s still an improvement on the previous quarter when it lost US$702m ($1.05b).

For technology fans, Straubel was the Steve Wozniak to Musk’s Steve Jobs, a quiet presence in the background but a vital piece in the creation and growth of Tesla. The pair reportedly met in 2003 when Straugel pitched the idea of an electric airplane to Musk utilising lithium-ion batteries, before the pair joined with Tesla’s original founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning to work on electric cars.

“I want to thank J.B. for his fundamental role in creating and building Tesla,” Musk said during a conference call with analysts last week announcing his departure. “If we hadn’t had lunch in 2003, Tesla wouldn’t exist, basically.”

While Musk is the public face of the brand, Straubel was responsible for developing its key technologies including the batteries, motors, power electronics, firmware, software and controls so his importance to the company cannot be understated.

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However, reports from the US suggest after 15 years working on Tesla, Straubel is looking for a fresh challenge away from the high pressure automotive business. He already established a new company in 2017, Redwood Materials, that is working on techniques to recycle and re-manufacture in new ways.

Tesla has lost several other key executives in recent times, just last week Steve McManus, Tesla’s head of interior and exterior engineering, left for Apple. He joined two other Tesla executives who also moved to Apple, while the head of manufacturing jumped ship to Lucid Motors, a new EV player.

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