An unprecedented move by one of the auto industry’s fringe players this week could have trickle-down benefits for the Eastern Sierra.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced in a blog post Thursday that his company would be abandoning its patents in order to share the technology with competing manufacturers such as Audi, Toyota, Ford and General Motors.
With interest from the major companies and, hopefully, eventual mass production of electric cars with Tesla batteries, will come increased consumer demand – which, in turn, will create a need for thousands of recharging stations around the country. Tesla has already expressed an interest in building some of those stations along U.S. Highway 395.
Musk’s caveat was that these leading automakers use the technology in “good faith” to embark on serious production of electrical vehicle options for consumers. The idea, he explained, is to spark a healthy competition that benefits not just the automobile manufacturers, but the consumers and ultimately the environment.
“Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day,” Musk wrote on Tesla’s website. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”
He added, “If we clear a path to the creation of electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
Investor reaction was mostly positive, according to Forbes, while the large automakers seemed to scoff at Musk’s offer.
Abandoning the patents is one piece of an intricate puzzle Tesla is putting together to eventually mass-produce its popular, but largely out-of-reach electrical cars.
Lack of recharging stations has been one obstacle to wider-spread consumer acceptance of the electric car. According to Tesla’s website, it has 97 supercharger stations in the U.S., 20 in Europe and three in Asia. Those numbers don’t exactly inspire consumer confidence in a country where there’s seemingly a gas station on every corner or in every town dotting the map.
Last month, Bishop City Administrator Keith Caldwell reported that the city had been approached by Tesla Motors – which was looking to provide recharging stations along U.S. Highway 395 – asking if there was a location within the city where the company might be able to erect such a station.
Caldwell noted Tesla was specifically asking to locate the station on city-owned property, somewhere in the downtown core – a conceivable benefit to merchants in the area as the vehicle owners waited for their cars to charge. The station would take up about four parking spots.
Tesla presented the city with a contract that, after review by city attorneys, wasn’t very attractive to the city, mainly in the fact the city would have to accept all liability for anything that went awry at Tesla’s recharging station. According to Caldwell, the city drafted a revised contract it was more comfortable with, and which Tesla rejected, saying the city would have to accept its contract or nothing.
Caldwell noted the city also wasn’t too keen on the idea of endorsing one auto company in particular. Ideally, the recharging station would be universal, for all electric vehicles, he said.
Nevertheless, “It doesn’t mean it can’t happen on private property,” Caldwell said of the recharging station. “And I hope so. It will be a cool project.”
The Tesla Model S, equipped with an 85 kWh battery, can travel 306 miles on a single charge, which takes about 40 minutes to an hour. The 65 kWh battery is good for about 244 miles on a single charge.
According to reports, other car manufacturers might be more willing to embrace Tesla’s technology – and invest in electric vehicles – if they can use Tesla’s batteries. They’d do that, wisdom dictates, if recharging stations were abundantly available. It’s conceivable they’d one day be the universal stations Caldwell envisions.
The stations are just another piece of the puzzle.
One more – the main piece, really – is mass production of the batteries. Over the past year or more Tesla has been searching the country for the ideal location for a multi-billion-dollar “gigafactory” capable of turning out batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2017.
According to Tesla, mass production would drive down the cost of the batteries, and thus lower the vehicle’s $70,000 price tag – making it more attractive to consumers.
While some states, such as Ohio and New Jersey, are trying to keep Tesla as far away as possible, making it all but impossible for Tesla to sell its automobiles directly to consumers, others are clamoring for the chance to host the company’s factory.
California is among those states hoping to woo the automaker, despite the fact Musk called it an “improbable” prospect given the state’s notoriously painful regulatory process, red tape and other hurdles businesses face.
Still close to home, Nevada looks to be a top contender, along with Texas. Musk recently announced he had narrowed his choices down to two sites: San Antonio and Reno.
A gigafactory in Reno would not just provide 6,500 jobs – but stimulate an economy, and line the pockets of potential travelers, located no more than three hours’ driving distance from the Eastern Sierra.