Auto Manufacturers Ambivalent Towards Tesla Patents



model-x-patentTo promote acceptance of electric cars among more drivers, Tesla recently offered to make all the patents protecting its Supercharger system and EV technology available to any auto manufacturer.

So far, the response from the world’s automobile manufacturers has been tepid… best.

Part of the problem is the Tesla offer requires others to do things the Tesla way, including providing the electricity needed for free. Tesla also wants the other companies to shoulder some of the costs of building more Supercharger charging stations at home and abroad, which would arguably benefit Tesla more than traditional automakers.

At present, there are four major recharging systems vying for acceptance in the marketplace, and none of them are compatible with the others. What we are seeing is a tech war like the one that pitted VHS against BetaMax or laser discs against DVD’s.  It would be a huge step forward if a common set of protocols could be agreed to for all electric cars.

Here’s how Honda spokesperson Angie Nucci responded to Autoblog Green when asked about the Tesla patents.

We strongly feel Honda is a leader in the field of electric drive technologies and already has one of the most energy efficient electric vehicles on the road – the 118 MPGe EPA-rated Fit EV – on the market.”

Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification technology communications for GM, said:

Right now, we don’t have anybody seriously studying [Tesla’s] patents. … We’re interested in what they’re doing more from the business side.

Not exactly ringing endorsements, are they? While other automakers have refused to respond though, at least two companies, Nissan and BMW, are actively engaged in talks with Tesla about technology sharing, centering on the fast-charging Supercharger stations. So while many automakers are ambivalent as best to Tesla’s technology-sharing offer, there are at least two companies interested in making a deal, and arguably the two companies with the strongest EV portfolio.

There is a lot of money at stake and corporate egos are also involved. The story of the electric automobile is being written as you read this, but no one knows how the story will end, or what role Tesla will yet play.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • UncleB

    GM a corporation well into its very old age and unlikely able to shift much away from age old beliefs founded as long ago as the 1920’s, 30’s. Already rescued by huge government loans,corporate socialism, and unable to innivate, they are unlikely to maintian market share much longer. Chrysler has much the same problems, but Ford shows promise, with aluminum cabs for pick up trucks, next they can create a commercial model with diesel and COE designs ti increase payload by 1/3, and an Aluminum body for thier smallest cars, with elelctric propulsion a la Tesla. Expect China to mass produce Tesla’s and even sell them world wide as trade barriers and protectionism are exposed by modern communications and broken down.
    Tesla’s released patents are not the end all solution but the starting point for progressive manufacturers, much as China’s Thorium LFTR technologies are. America! The ball is in your court! What will you do with it?

    • Steve Grinwis

      GM forced Honda to advance in fuel economy when the Cruze Eco was launched. Honda had to go back, and do a whole pile of aero magic to make the Civic as fuel efficient as a GM…

      Don’t count them out just yet. The Volt is pretty awesome, and hopefully the next gen will be even MORE awesome.

      Also: The reason why Ford has to go to aluminum frames? Because even their EcoBoost V6 engines aren’t as fuel efficient as the base GM V8 pickup.

  • UncleB

    Thomas I feel like the prevalent corporate model is more about
    leveraging copyrights or other other legalized advantages to maintain
    exclusive mini-monopolies than offering the best product consumers
    truly want/need. I respect what Tesla is doing but, am unsurprised by
    companies being hesitant to jump on board. “”

    Lee T certainly
    understands Amer-thought! Unfortunately this is the Corpocracies
    greatest lie! Guess who no longer rides USSR/Soviet designed Space
    Systems to the International Space Station, for exactly this kind of
    retro-thinking! Guess which nation is locked into the American
    Nuclear Establishment’s enriched uranium systems as others move
    forward with Thorium LFTR styled neutron gun controlled clean safe
    scalable and cheaper reactor systems, Solar Wind Wave Hydro Tidal
    Geothermal renewable perpetual energy systems, see Denmark, Germany,
    Scotland for example. An Aluminum bodied mass produced sedan with
    lifetime guaranteed 3 moving part electric drive is a radical change,
    a step into the future that the American Establishment rejects mostly
    because they have sunk money in the current systems. Fortunately the
    world will progress, as China and Putin’s newly formed Pan Asian
    Empire are big enough to ignore U.S, patent laws, U.S. hegemony. A
    fading U.S. influence in this new world, due mostly to Lee T’s well
    defined ‘U.S. situation’, is restricting true progress and innovation
    and preventing a leading U.S. role that could haul the U.S. out of
    recession? A thought to ponder?

  • Not invented here, maybe? That is a silly reason not to use something that works well.

  • Steve Grinwis

    All the really awesome Tesla patents focus on it’s adaptations around using the tiny lithium cells they favor. Literally every other EV on the planet that I’m aware of uses large format cells. As such, the patents are pretty much useless to everyone, unless they completely re-engineer their packs. And, to be honest, it’s not worth it. Tesla packs don’t appear to offer much advantage over large format cells, in cost, or energy density, or longevity. The cells themselves may be cheaper, but the pack engineering is much more complicated. With smaller packs, the engineering costs are probably more dominant.

    The interesting part of all of this is potential use of the Super Charger network. But then again, I look around me on PlugShare, and I see hundreds of level 2 chargers, and no Tesla superchargers.

    When fast DC chargers cost about $30k and falling, it’s probably not worth embroiling yourself with Tesla, and having to be on the hook for developing a standard you don’t really want to support, and is already obsolete. (The CCS was launched this year and supports fast charging up to something asinine like 270 kW).

    So, yes. I get why no one is going for these patents. They’re just not compelling for anyone but Tesla.