A founder of legendary electrovehicle firm Tesla Motors, maker of the much-fancied Roadster battery sports car, is suing the firm and its present chief - famed tech zillionaire Elon Musk. Martin Eberhard alleges that Musk has slandered and libelled him, mishandled the fortunes of Tesla Motors, and deliberately supplied Eberhard with a "wrecked" Roadster.
Eberhard was a co-founder of Tesla Motors in 2002, but left the firm following boardroom battles with Musk - who had become the company's principal financial backer - in 2007. he says in the lawsuit that at the time he "fully cooperated with the transition process in the hope that his vision for the company would be realised and his spirit would continue even in his absence".
Eberhard says that it was also agreed before he left that he would receive the No. 2 Roadster to come off the assembly line, a "Founder's Series" model likely to become worth "as high as several million dollars because of its historical value".
Instead of this extremely valuable historical car, Eberhard says, he was eventually supplied with an ordinary Roadster which was "wrecked", having "been smashed into the back of a truck by a Tesla Motors employee during a so-called 'endurance test'".
Not content with this, Eberhard alleges that Musk mounted a public hate campaign against him, briefing various media outlets to the effect that production and financial difficulties at Tesla were all a legacy of moves made by Eberhard - a claim he strongly denies. Indeed, Eberhard accuses Musk of being a meddlesome micromanager - insisting, for instance, on "electronic door latches" and other details causing "ever increasing delays" and "sky-rocketing expenses".
There's more, much more. Eberhard is suing for unspecified damages and costs.
Meanwhile, under Musk's control, Tesla says it has weathered recent financial storms - perhaps with further infusions of cash from Musk himself - and has now delivered its 500th Roadster. The firm hopes to press on soon with an electric car aimed at more normal buyers, as opposed to the expensive, elitist Roadster.
Musk himself is spending much of his time focused on his SpaceX rocket company, which hopes to revolutionise the field of orbital launch by offering much cheaper access to space. Thus far the firm has managed one successful launch of its smaller Falcon 1 rocket. It is working hard toward deployment of the larger Falcon 9, which could potentially lift astronauts into space using the firm's "Dragon" capsule design.
The fortune which has allowed Musk to acquire a controlling interest in Tesla and become a space launch kingpin was originally made at e-payments operation PayPal, now part of online megajumbleshop eBay.
Tesla has already had one clash in the California courts with a former member of staff, when Musk decided to sue designer Henrik Fisker. According to Musk, Fisker had lifted proprietary information on electric-vehicle design while working for Tesla and had then stiffed the firm with a duff design for the planned everyman model before departing. Fisker now intends to produce his own electric car.
Tesla and Musk lost their suit against Fisker. They'll no doubt be hoping for better fortune in the case of Eberhard. ®