Electric carmaker Tesla Motors is handing over the keys to its technology in an unusual effort to encourage other automakers to expand beyond gasoline-burning vehicles.
Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, promised on Thursday to give away the company’s entire patent portfolio, as long as they promised not to engage courtroom battles over intellectual property.
“If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal,” Musk wrote in a blog on the company’s website.
The decision opens the door to more collaboration with Tesla, which is already making electric systems for Daimler and Toyota. Other automakers using Tesla’s technology could potentially share the cost of Tesla’s charging stations, for example. And more charging stations could entice sceptical buyers to try electric cars.
Tesla Model S test drive
Seven years after Tesla introduced the Roadster electric sports car – which it no longer makes – electric cars still make up less than 1% of US sales. Drivers remain concerned about their range and the lack of places to get a charge. Stable gasoline prices have also hurt sales.
Musk wants Tesla to help change that. The Palo Alto, California-based company currently makes one vehicle – the $70,000 Model S sedan – and is developing two others. Its Model X crossover is due out next year, and Tesla wants to start making a cheaper model by 2017. It’s currently scouting locations for a $5bn battery factory to increase supplies.
But Musk said Tesla can’t make a dent in the market by itself, and thinks the patents could be a “modest” help to other companies developing electric cars. He says Tesla has gotten few requests for technology from rivals, but he thinks that’s partly because patents were blocking access.
“If we can do things that don’t hurt us and help the US industry, than we should do that,” he said.
Musk said Tesla discussed a potential Supercharger partnership with BMW this week. Currently, Tesla has about 100 Supercharger stations scattered across North America and Europe that give Model S drivers a free power source when traveling long distances, and it plans to open more in China and Japan this year. The technology is designed to replenish about half of the battery power within 20 minutes.
BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks confirmed the meeting.
Nissan, which makes the electric Leaf, had no comment on Tesla’s action. The Leaf only goes 84 miles on a battery charge, compared with up to 265 miles with a Model S. But the Model S has a much larger battery and costs twice as much as a Leaf.
Prashand Kumta, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s school of engineering, said Tesla’s lithium-ion battery technology isn’t unique. But how the company packages that technology and designs its cars could be useful to other companies.