Earlier this year one of Silicon Valley’s most-celebrated technology partnerships came to an end when Tesla and Toyota announced the end of their EV partnership. A new Bloomberg piece reveals just what went wrong in a clash of cultures and proprietary technologies.
Announced in 2010, the $50 million partnership promised to deliver at least 2,600 RAV4 EVs with batteries and drivetrains developed by Tesla. The electric automaker also bought into the NUMMI factory for the low cost of just $42 million, giving it a much-needed manufacturing hub. Yet almost immediately the wheels began to fall off the wagon.
One of the main points of contention concerned the parking pawl, or lack-thereof, in the Tesla-supplied design proposals. The electric automaker had done away with the device in favor of an electric parking brake backup, but Toyota engineers stood their ground, and it makes me wonder if they weren’t being too set-in-their ways. The RAV4 EV did get the pawl, and Toyota also got its way when it came to designing the battery enclosure as well. Considering the concerns with protecting the battery pack of the Model S, maybe Toyota was in the right on that one.
The regenerative braking feature was another area of contention, and neither the Toyota nor the Tesla engineering teams would share their proprietary software data with each other. That made making adjustments to the system unnecessarily difficult. Customers haven’t been too thrilled with the RAV4 EV’s performance either, and with sales and service limited to only California, just over 1,900 have been sold since going on sale in 2012. The $50,000 price tag was a big turnoff too, though the EPA-rated range of more than 100 miles per charge is the most you can get in an EV that isn’t the Tesla Model S.
The issues go beyond engineering spats though; Toyota has decided to invest heavily into hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a technology that Elon Musk has publicly called “bullshit”. One can’t help but wonder if Musk’s bravado factored into the decision as well?
I can tell you it certainly didn’t help things. With these two former friends now standing in opposite corners of the boxing ring, it’s only a matter of time before they come to blows again. In the battle of Tesla vs. Toyota, we may be seeing the future of alternative fuels decided once and for all.