Tesla builds bridge to mainland. Now what?

Tesla no longer an Alcatraz TeslaMondo“I am a rock. I am an island.” The Simon and Garfunkel refrain could characterize Tesla’s recent relationship with the rest of the auto world. In November, 2011, Musk laughed at BYD’s electric car. In May, 2013, Musk said Tesla needed to get cracking on the Supercharger network and couldn’t wait around for a general consensus on charging protocol. In August, 2013, he commended BMW’s electric entry, the i3 — but then giggled at it. In October, 2013, Musk called fuel cell technology “bullshit.” In March of this year, Daimler and Bosch pointed out the folly of Tesla creating a proprietary supercharging network in Germany. The future is in standardization, they said.

These events positioned Tesla as an Alcatraz to the San Francisco of automobiledom. They certainly didn’t portend Musk’s dramatic patent giveaway. So add malleability to Musk’s long list of accolades as a leader. He freely changes his mind. Musk’s move opens a spigot of questions, and the human brain can gulp only so much at once. Does Tesla have non-patented information of any significance? What constitutes a “good faith” use of its patents? Could it start out as “good faith” and turn bad? Could a Chinese automaker act in “good faith” given China’s history of trampling intellectual property? If, say, BMW decides to mimic a Tesla powertrain, where would it source the batteries, given the fact that Tesla can’t get them fast enough? Does the Gigafactory become a go-to source for rivals, effectively making them Gigafactory customers along with the solar industry? Insert evil witch cackle here. Even better — will the Gigafactory find new founding partners?

We don't need no stinkin' patents

“We don’t need no stinkin’ patents.”

Many auto companies suffer from chronic entrenched player syndrome and cannot simply drop everything to create their version of a Model S. The prevailing attitude toward the EV market — recently punctuated by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne – will not suddenly dissipate. Or will it? The few rivals that would attempt to make a Telsa knockoff — perhaps BYD, or the new Fisker — would still need years of lead time AND would still lack Tesla’s manufacturing equipment and methodology. A bit of irony here: Tesla once hired, and then sued, Henrik Fisker for stealing the original idea for the Model S, code-named WhiteStar, and using the design to create the Karma. Now the new Fisker can take any information it wants, uh, assuming it’s acting in “good faith.” All Fisker needs now is Tesla-caliber execution, and a battery supplier. Not small problems considering a near-zero experience curve.

TeslaMondo believes the real catalyst for EV adoption will be the Gen III car from Tesla. That will remove all doubt about the mass-market potential of EVs and make all automakers wish they’d thunk of that. In the meantime, it feels good to cross the Bay and mingle with the rest of society. It’s been a while. Is House of Nanking still in business?

 

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