July 2009

Tastemakers 2009 Elon Musk

by Jonathan Schultz / produced by Mayer Rus / portrait by Scott Council

Elon Musk Inc. magazine’s 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year is not a publicity stuntman in the mold of Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson. Rather, Musk is an implacable tinkerer. He burrows deep into lithium-ion-battery development for his electric car brand, Tesla Motors, and pores over sketches from the company’s advanced-design studios in Hawthorne. When Musk is satisfied that his terrestrial tech is well in hand, he designs rockets and cargo capsules for his El Segundo–based low-cost space-transport endeavor, SpaceX.

Musk cofounded PayPal and then sold the online-payment service in 2002 for a reported $1.5 billion. And while his entrepreneurial derring-do has made him a favorite target of both technorati and gearhead bloggers, his strongest rebuke to his critics came in April, when Tesla’s Model S broke cover in New York. Presuming the company’s finances can withstand the economic downturn, the electric-powered midsize luxury sedan from Tesla is set to bow in 2011 with a price undercutting its German competitors. Detroit’s surrendered market share could become Tesla’s within a decade—if Musk doesn’t claim the cosmos’ shipping lanes first.