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Ousted Tesla exec was behind gas-electric car idea

Founder Martin Eberhard was the exec who first concluded that Tesla needed to turn its Whitestar sedan into one in which the gas engine only charges the battery.

Here's a fun tidbit that has come out of the Tesla Motors stories this week: ousted founder Martin Eberhard was the exec who first concluded that Tesla needed to turn its Whitestar sedan into a gas-electric hybrid.

It was back in the summer of 2007, said Daryl Siry, vice president of marketing at Tesla. Eberhard examined the technologies, the price of batteries and other factories and "came up with the idea" for making Whitestar a serial hybrid. Serial hybrids are different than existing parallel hybrids like the Toyota Prius. In serial hybrids, the gas engine only charges the battery. The car thus runs almost exclusively on batteries and has a longer range and lower price than an equivalent all-electric car.

Later, Tesla modified the idea slightly. It will come out first with an all-electric version of Whitestar and follow it up with a serial hybrid version. The company will also come up with a real name: Whitestar is just a code name.

The idea that Tesla might do a serial hybrid leaked here first.

Thus, Eberhard joins the club of leaders who had a good idea but got ousted anyway. It's a small club--and includes those guys who thought Apple should have licensed its software back in the 1980s--but it's a good one to be a member of. Beats being in the club of people who had the wrong idea and stayed employed nonetheless.

Eberhard, though, wasn't always a fan of serial hybrids. He wrote back here in his blog in January 2007 (when he was still CEO of Tesla) that GM was going to have a tough time with the concept.

On other serial hybrid notes, Siry said the company will be able to get on the right side of the currency exchange by selling cars in Europe. The car is mostly made in Europe, a process that costs Euros, but sold in the U.S., where we use discarded Lira for money. The European launch was moved up about a year.