MILPITAS -- They are the Tesla faithful: the early adopters of the all-electric Roadster and Model S sedan who have been strong believers in the Palo Alto-based company since the beginning.
More than 300 people packed the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley in Milpitas this weekend for TESLIVE, the first-ever users conference for Tesla owners and enthusiasts. Part MacWorld, part revival meeting, it was a chance for Tesla fans to swap stories, show off their vehicles and meet each other in person after years of communicating via online forums.
Many attendees were from California, but some came from as far away as Japan and Hong Kong. Many came to hear from the Tesla god himself: CEO Elon Musk.
"It's the most exciting car I've ever had, and this was a chance to get together with people who understand," said Susan Grossman, a Model S owner who flew in from Houston. "And I had to see Elon in person."
Musk's appearance Saturday afternoon was the highlight of the three-day event, which includes a party at the Tesla factory in Fremont and a group drive Sunday in the East Bay hills. "The goal of Tesla is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation," said Musk, whose entrance was captured by dozens of smartphones. "I think we can ship 800 cars a week by the end of next year."
A Q&A session with Musk got off to a rousing start when a tearful Tesla fan presented him with a bottle of red wine, which Musk promptly opened and began to drink from. Several Tesla owners thanked Musk for his work not just at Tesla but in "changing the world."
"You've made it possible again to dream really big," said Bob Fitzgerald, of Princeton, N.J.
At a lunch table, many talked about their strategies for investing in Tesla's stock, which has skyrocketed in recent months as Model S deliveries have accelerated and Tesla reported profitability for the first time in its 10 year history. On Friday, Tesla's stock closed at $129.90.
Musk said the biggest challenge facing Tesla right now is scaling production and "avoiding big-company-itis." Another challenge is lithium-ion cell production, a key component of Tesla's battery packs.
"We're working with Panasonic to ramp up production. We need a lot of battery," Musk said. "The sheer number of battery plants that needs to get built is quite staggering."
A male Tesla owner from Minneapolis was widely booed by the audience when he asked Musk how he "viewed women," adding that women "aren't as techie."
"I love women," Musk said. "We have significant female support. A lot of women buy the Model S, and a lot of women will buy the Model X."
With Tesla's second-quarter earnings report coming up, Musk was careful not to break any news, stressing that Tesla is focusing on the Model S, expanding the network of "superchargers" and selling vehicles in Europe.
As far as the future goes, Musk said he was "quite keen" to build an all-electric truck. When asked about the "Hyperloop," a hypothetical mode of transportation, he said he was inspired by California's plans for high-speed rail, which he called "the slowest bullet train in the world."
Brian Steel, of Tacoma, Wash., started investing in Tesla when the stock was around $37 a share, and made enough money to buy a Model S.
"Fifty years from now," Steel said, "people will look back at Tesla and this event and say, 'This is when the world changed.' "
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.