EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been changed to correct the number of roadsters sold by Tesla. The automaker has sold 1,800 to date.
FREMONT, Calif. -- Elon Musk won't leave.
His handlers have been nudging him for 45 minutes, reminding him of a dinner meeting for which he is seriously late. But the CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., the man who also founded online payment service PayPal, is clearly enjoying himself.
Earlier in the evening Musk had driven a prototype of the Tesla Model S sedan onto the factory floor that once had churned out Toyotas and Pontiacs. He was greeted by a crowd roar normally reserved for a rock concert.
The hulking plant now belongs to Tesla. Before taking the company public in 2010, Musk had sunk what remained of his $180 million PayPal fortune into the electric car venture, which is scheduled to start delivering the Model S next summer.
After throwing open the doors to the factory and unveiling the Model S, the charismatic Musk is surrounded by true believers -- 3,000 people who traveled across the globe to see the car for which they had plunked down $5,000 deposits. They fawn over the 40-year-old Musk, who revels in the back-and-forth with customers.
And he is pure salesman.
"The Model S is not the best electric car, it's the best car of any kind," Musk tells the group. "It's about the same external dimensions as a 5-series BMW, yet has twice the cargo capacity. It's got the biggest sunroof of any car. The fit and finish are superior to any premium sedan. We have the most advanced paint shop in the industry."
And he adds: "If you drive another premium sedan after driving the Model S, it's going to feel like a jalopy."
Finally, the crowd thins to such an extent that Musk is almost the last person at the party.
Satisfied he has answered every question and autographed every personalized license plate, he gives a quick wave and is gone.
That's not to say Musk and his team have all the answers. Executives say they know about all of those failed automotive dreamers, the Kaisers, Tuckers and DeLoreans. They say Tesla will change the auto industry, but admit that they must work within the same cost and logistics constraints and must use the same supply chain as everyone else in the car business.
And no one has yet proved that electric vehicles will sell on a mass scale.