22 October 2018
The real motive behind Tesla's "open source" move may be to get more players on board the e-car venture. Photo: National Business Daily
The real motive behind Tesla's "open source" move may be to get more players on board the e-car venture. Photo: National Business Daily

Open-source Elon: Free spirit or bright commercial spark?

For four long years, Apple and Samsung have waged patent war against each other in courts around the world. Billions of dollars are at stake and countless hours have been spent defending their intellectual ground.

Contrast that with US electric-car maker Tesla, which announced this month that it will tear down its patent wall and share its technology with competitors for free.

Major Chinese new-energy car and lithium battery counters hit the daily gain limit a day and one fan compared Tesla founder Elon Musk to Jonas Salk, the American virologist who developed the world’s first polio vaccine but didn’t patent it for himself, Southern Weekend reported.

But Xinhua isn’t buying that comparison. It quoted an analyst from the Chinese Academy of Engineering as saying that Musk feared previously that without patents mainstream carmakers would steal Tesla’s technologies and overtake the firm with their strength in mass production and marketing.

The reality now is just the opposite. Sales of electric cars have grown but market share remains painfully low — less than 1 percent of the total output of world’s top 10 carmakers. And, it seems that some of these giants have lost their appetite for e-cars — Toyota hit the brake two years ago on trial production of the eQ, its first pure-electric sedan, and other firms like Honda and Hyundai have also taken their time to get their e-models up and running.

On the surface, that would seem heartening for Tesla because it can have more of the road to itself. But that’s a large share of a very small market, given the continued dominance of traditional gasoline-fueled models.

It’s clear now that Tesla’s rivals are not the electric models of other competitors but the tens of thousands of regular cars that roll off production lines every day.

Tesla needs to first help expand the e-car market and one way of doing it is to lure more carmakers in with access to Tesla’s technology and then mobilize the entire industry to work together.

Tesla could also be trying to defend e-car territory from other new-energy vehicles, such as hybrid, gas-powered and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Tesla is expected to sell as many of its Model S cars in China as it does in the United States this year. But while US Model S drivers can travel across the country green and chic thanks to a nationwide supercharging network, their Chinese brethren have to make do with much less in charging infrastructure. And without charging stations in China, Tesla’s operation won’t be able to reach full speed.

Musk’s “open source” move may seem like the action of a good guy but it’s also a good business strategy — it may encourage more mainland players to build a charging network across China, which will mean more sales for Tesla.

– Contact the writer at [email protected] 


EJ Insight writer

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