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Tesla Motors is the world’s most cutting-edge electric car and utility company, but what (or who) is behind the company’s unique name?

Tesla Motors is named after Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), who pioneered modern electrical power in the United States. His notable innovations include alternating current (AC power), induction motors, and three-phase power.

In this article, we’ll cover the history of Nikola Tesla and his inventions and why Tesla is the perfect name for a cutting-edge electric car, battery, and renewable energy generation company in the 21st century.

We sourced the information used in this article from interviews of Tesla founders and reliable historical guides to the life of inventor Nikola Tesla.

Table of Contents

What (or Who) Was Tesla?

Nikola Tesla, the automotive company’s namesake, has no relation whatsoever to the company itself. Tesla was born on the 10th of July 1856 in what is now part of modern-day Croatia. But what does this man have to do with the world’s most innovative electric car company?

Nikola Tesla, in his later life, became one of the pioneers of modern electricity. According to many, he’s single handedly responsible for modern electrical power—even more so than Thomas Edison.

During his lifetime, Nikola Tesla secured over 300 patents and pioneered wireless communication and efficient electrical power generation and transfer.

Perhaps no historical inventor rivalry is more turbulent or famous than Tesla’s feud with Thomas Edison. The two inventors, who rose to prominence in the United States at the same exact time, competed for dominance of the emerging U.S. electrical grid.

Edison favored direct current, which was safe but highly inefficient. Edison’s current, which traveled in only one direction, would have required a power plant every few miles.

Tesla favored alternating current, which had reversing charges that could travel for miles without being refreshed. When it eventually needed to be, a simple substation could do the trick and send it many more miles.

Alternating current was far more dangerous than direct current at useful voltages, but it was much more efficient and could be stepped down to direct current whenever necessary. Tesla (with the backing of entrepreneur George Westinghouse) won, as his system was cleaner, more economical, and more robust.

Tesla’s Other Contributions to Electric Power

Alternating current could be used in many ways. The Tesla coil is another invention of Nikola Tesla, which is a transformer that produces high voltage electricity with low current. The Tesla coil revolutionized wireless transmission, and was way ahead of its time.

Tesla invented three-phase electrical power, induction motors, oscillators, variable capacitors, and even neon lights. Other notable inventions include the Tesla turbine, which is the most efficient practical turbine design ever.

Famously, Tesla built a working 330-horsepower Tesla steam turbine which could essentially fit inside of a shed, compared to a conventional turbine that would occupy much more space.

Why Did Tesla Founders Name the Company after Nikola Tesla?

Tesla was treated poorly by many people in the United States due to his quirky traits and foreign upbringing. Even Westinghouse eventually turned his back on Tesla, leaving one of the world’s most brilliant inventors penniless.

Edison gets most of the credit for electrical innovations during the 19th and 20th centuries. After all, there are utility companies with his name on them. Tesla was just as influential to the parts of electrical technology that we don’t see as often—IE the stuff that makes modern life possible behind the scenes.

Tesla founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning chose the name “Tesla Motors” for their company in 2003. The name was fitting without explanation, but Elon Musk elaborated to clear up any confusion.

Musk, one of the largest early investors and the current majority stakeholder, said that the company aimed to follow Nikola Tesla’s lead.

The company aims to increase the efficiency of energy transportation, thus expediting the transition from dirty energy (coal and oil) to renewable energy.

Tesla Inventions Used in Tesla Automobiles

So, how many of Nikola Tesla’s inventions are actually used in Tesla Cars? As you might expect, there are numerous Tesla innovations at play in modern electric cars. The most notable of which is the induction motor.

Induction motors don’t use permanent magnets. This is an important detail to understand, as most other motors use a thick ring of permanent magnets around the shaft to induce rotation when current flows to the electromagnets.

The induction motors inside most Tesla vehicles are three-phase AC motors. That’s notable because both alternating current and three-phase power are some of Nikola Tesla’s most notable inventions.

So why are induction motors key to the efficient operation of electric cars? For one, they’re cheap—induction motors don’t require permanent magnets, which are one of the most expensive components of most motors. This makes electric cars affordable.

Induction motors are also highly efficient and have an excellent power to weight ratio. Power to weight is more important than you think—this is why we don’t use Stirling engines for cars, despite their amazing efficiency. Induction motors weigh half of what alternatives do, as permanent magnets are extremely heavy.

Tesla played a major part in the enhancement of wireless communication technology as well. Tesla cars rely heavily on wireless communication, which would be decades less advanced right now if it weren’t for Nikola Tesla’s innovations.

Additionally, Tesla chargers rely on the efficient transfer of power via three-phase alternating current for their chargers and superchargers. Without an advanced electrical grid that was engineered almost exclusively from Tesla innovations, an efficient charging system for electric cars would be impossible.

How Tesla Motors Continues Nikola Tesla’s Legacy

Tesla Motor is the biggest single piece of free press for Nikola Tesla’s legacy since the Tesla Coil. Most people don’t learn much about Tesla in school, which is a shame given his contributions to modern life.

Tesla Motors aims to further Nikola Tesla’s legacy by providing equally impactful inventions to the public at an affordable price. Ever wonder why the Model 3 isn’t a 100,000-dollar performance car? They could certainly sell it for that much, but they constantly work to make it more affordable.

That’s because Tesla’s vision goes beyond profits. They want to spearhead the future of safe, reliable, advanced, and renewable transportation for individuals.

That’s just like what Nikola Tesla did for electrical power, which brought America and the world out of the dark ages and made electricity affordable for everyone and not just the elites in big cities.

What Does Tesla Stand For?

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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