Tesla Motors has an unconventional plan to pave the way for widespread use of electric vehicles (EVs).
The Elon Musk-helmed auto manufacturer announced last week that it would not take legal action against any competitor that chooses to use its patents. The condition? That the technology be used "in good faith" to advance the electric vehicle "cause."
Musk’s hope is that the rising tide of electric vehicle popularity will carry Tesla's boat higher. The real threat to EVs is not more electric cars—it’s the continued dominance of fossil fuel powered vehicles.
If more companies produced more EVs, charging stations would proliferate. Further, expanding the acceptance of EVs could assuage consumer fears around mileage, reliability, and safety.
Currently, Tesla makes the only electric vehicle that can stand up to a gasoline-powered automobile in terms of range, speed, and performance. The Tesla Model S has a range between 300 and 500 km, depending on the size of battery installed.
A large network of charging stations has emerged across the U.S., but the car is still considered a “luxury” option with a cost of around $90,000. As Wired notes, the Model S is still largely a plaything for "celebrities and the Silicon Valley elite."
The move certainly had elements of a PR stunt—from Musk's appeal to the open source movement to the title of the blog post in which the move was announced (“All Our Patent Are Belong to You”, wrote the meme-savvy Musk.)
It is still unclear whether Tesla's move will influence other automakers. The Christian Science Monitor notes that while Tesla has discussed electric vehicles with BMW (maker of the i3, the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the market), it’s debatable whether other companies would be interested in Tesla's technology.
For one, Tesla's technology still has an environmental impact, as mining the materials necessary for manufacturing batteries can be nasty work. Other manufacturers, like Toyota, maker of the popular Prius, has announced it will move away from battery powered vehicles and towards hydrogen fuel cells.
But the potential exists for smaller automakers to benefit. Alcoa/Phinergy, a Canadian and Israeli partnership, is currently developing an "aluminum-air" battery that can run a refurbished car for more than 1,800 kilometres. Whether that technology would benefit from Tesla's intellectual property remains to be seen.
Tesla Appeals to Open Source Movement in Patent Release