Tesla’s mission has always been to advance the transition to electromobility, and Elon Musk has said many times that he’s open to licensing deals that would allow other automakers to use the company’s technology. As far as we know, only two major brands have ever taken Tesla up on the offer: back in the 2010s, Tesla briefly provided batteries for Daimler’s electric smart and B-Class Electric Drive, and for Toyota’s RAV4 EV. Both of these were compliance cars that the companies sold in low volumes and soon discontinued.
“The problem that we found with programs we did with Toyota and with Daimler was that they ended up being too small,” Elon Musk later said. “They basically— just calculated the amount they needed to keep the regulators happy and made the program as small as possible. We don’t want to do programs like that. We want to do programs that are going to change the world.”
Recently Musk made another appeal. In response to a Teslarati story about the German automakers, whose embarrassment at falling behind Tesla has become a common theme in the EV press, Musk tweeted: “Tesla is open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries. We’re just trying to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors!”
Asked if Autopilot was included in the offer, Musk replied, “Sure.”
Tesla is open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries. We’re just trying to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 29, 2020
There are many intriguing possibilities out there. As Teslarati pointed out, it’s an open secret that the German automakers are years behind Tesla in several key areas. Could licensing some of the Californians’ tech help them catch up? CNET retorted that things aren’t that simple in the auto industry. The VW Group and others have invested billions in their own EV tech. Throwing it out and trying to plug in Tesla’s software, battery packs or whatever might not end up saving them any time, but it would cost them plenty both in cash and reputation. The Germans are used to thinking of themselves as the masters of the automotive universe, and they want to meet Tesla as equals (at least), not as poor supplicants.
The idea of sharing the Supercharger network might present possibilities for mutual benefit. Der Spiegel recently reported that the German brands are struggling to handle the sudden surge in EV demand in Europe, and that a lack of charging infrastructure is part of the problem. (Tesla now has almost 5,000 Superchargers in 24 European countries, while the Ionity consortium has only 1,160 so far).
Making other EVs compatible with Superchargers probably wouldn’t present an insurmountable technical challenge, and it would go a long way toward winning over potential buyers who are still worried about charging. But would Tesla be willing to give up such a valuable competitive advantage for any reasonable price?
Who knows? Like Musk, we just want to see everyone driving EVs, and if the legacy brands could find ways to cooperate with Tesla to get the latest and greatest tech out there more quickly, we’d be all for it. But for a number of reasons, we don’t expect to see anything of the kind happen any time soon.