By: Andrew Hendricks
Open Source Electric Cars
In an unusually altruistic move, Tesla Motors has announced on their blog with a post titled All Our Patents Are Belong to You that they will be releasing to the public patents behind the proprietary technology that functions at the heart of the Tesla Model S. vehicle.
Elon Musk, the power-investor and founder behind Paypal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, has said that he wishes for all electric cars to compete on a playing field against each other, and leave the fossil fuel-based cars in the dust, so to speak.
In the same post written by Musk himself, Tesla boasts of their move: “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling 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.”
Some are quick to point out the this open source mentality Musk is adopting with the release of Tesla patents is a purely rational, strategic move to help make the Electric Car a more accepted vehicle in consumers mind. Certainly a venture capitalist extraordinaire like Elon Musk has a long-term future in mind for the profitability of Tesla, but does it matter if it is for one other the other—for greed or for good?
Reddit founder and Alexis Ohanian commented on a recent episode of the Nerdist Podcast with this very point. Reddit.com is a website is no stranger to the open source movement, as it gives their code away freely so that others can improve upon it with their suggestions, or even make their own Reddit clone if they wanted. Comparing this Silicon Valley philosophy to Tesla's new open source effort Ohanian went on to say that, since he is a known investor in Tesla, people have recently been asking him how altruistic was this move really? “Why to be mutually exclusive?” he said. “Why does it have to be either an altruistic thing or a sinister corporate thing? Maybe it's actually in the best interest of a for-profit company to open up this database—and it's valuable, because if the world moves to electric cars Tesla just knows they're going to out-innovate, and they're building supercharger stations everywhere.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” Ohanian said.
So you can easily see a future where Tesla can only benefit by contributing to a marketplace where the public infrastructure begins to support electric cars—even if it means more electric car manufacturers competing with Tesla. “We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position,” Musk said. To be at the head of the pack, as Musk wants for Tesla as a company, there has to be a pack. With Musk's leadership, Tesla is taking the unusual position for a growing company—rather than edge out their competition Starbucks-style, they're purposely creating more competition, in a way, without competing at all.
“Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced,” Musk went on to say, “but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.”
Speaking of competition and free markets, Tesla is currently battling this very problem of getting the cars it has already to produced to customers who already want to buy them. Tesla sells to individual consumers directly, as they are not already part of established auto-dealers such as Dodge, Ford, etc. etc. The National Association of Auto Dealers (NADA) have taken issue with their sales method, and have put political pressure to ban the sale of Tesla's in certain states using anti-trust laws and other methods.
Forbes published a piece critical of the arbitrary anti-consumer nature of the auto-dealers attempts to stunt Tesla's growth: “So far, Tesla's direct sales have been blocked in New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, with battles ongoing in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Caroline, Minnesota, Georgia, and Ohio.
Rooster Teeth founder and CEO Burnie Burns decried the sad state of affairs on his podcast. He is an ardent advocate of how nifty his Tesla is, and complained that as a resident of Austin, Texas, he could not legally by a car from Tesla, and had to go out of state and purchase from an individual out of state and have it driven in.
Perhaps, opening the market to more electric cars is part of the solution to this somewhat odious problem of the car dealerships' political influence. In the blog post announcing the release, Musk wrote that “given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous.”
Lest you think this was all merely a publicity stunt for an obscure and overpriced electric car, bear in mind that consumer reviews for Tesla have been phenomenal, and a year prior this announcement Tesla was already on the rise as a recognized, publicly traded company with an ever-increasing share-price and forecasts for growth. Listed as TSLA on the NASDAQ, Tesla's positive consumer feedback and stellar tech reviews lead 2013 to be on of the best years for Tesla, prompting headlines as simplistic and positive as Tesla's Stocks Soar.
Of course, Tesla has plenty on the horizon for their own company, besides making life easier for their fellow fledgling electric car manufacturers. Seeking to break the electric car out of the luxury car market, Tesla has announced their new Model 3 car will be available for only $35,000.
Until recently, cars have competed based upon their unique exteriors, luxury features, and engines as an almost secondary concern. With the advent of the Prius and the stellar success of the Tesla brand, consumers are becoming more and more interested in the battery and engine technologies inside the “post-carbon” car. With prices on the decline, electric cars being taken more seriously, and nothing but positivity from its users who are the single biggest pushers of the Tesla gospel, the future is bright, and as a brand, Tesla has never been stronger.