Although Toyota and Daimler might have both distanced themselves from Tesla Motors earlier this fall by selling off their substantial shareholdings in the Californian automaker, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that German automaker BMW is eager and willing to fill the void.
[UPDATE, December 2, 2014: We’ve been contacted by Tesla Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean, who has asked us to add an official Tesla statement to both this story, and the subsequent coverage we gave this story on December 2. You’ll find the quote at the end of this article.]
In an interview with the weekly German news magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday, Musk confirmed that Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] is currently in talks with BMW over a possible alliance between the two companies. As Reuters reports, while there was no talk of BMW [XETRA: BMW] buying up shares in Tesla, Musk did hinted at a future working partnership between the two firms on both battery technology and carbon-fiber body panels.
At the moment, BMW relies on South-Korean company Samsung SDI to provide it with enough lithium-ion battery packs for its BMW i3 electric car, BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car, BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car and future BMW-branded plug-in hybrid and hybrid models. But with Tesla due to bring its massive Tesla Gigafactory manufacturing and reprocessing plant on line by 2017, the Californian automaker is set to dramatically reduce the cost of lithium-ion battery packs.
By relying on Tesla rather than Samsung SDI for future battery packs, BMW could not only massively reduce the cost of building its electric and plug-in hybrid models but also benefit from what is expected to be the most energy-dense electric vehicle battery pack in production.
Similarly, BMW has spent a great deal of time and money on developing massive, energy-efficient carbon-fiber production facilities to enable it to mass-produce the carbon-fiber reinforced car body panels and passenger cells used to dramatically reduce the weight of its i3 and i8 plug-in vehicles. Far more energy efficient to manufacture than traditional steel-bodied vehicles, BMW’s lightweight carbon-fiber panels also enable it to produce the most energy-efficient plug-in car on sale anywhere in the world.
That’s something that Musk calls “interesting” and “relatively cost efficient.” And while that doesn’t confirm any future partnership between the two firms, it strongly suggests a quid pro quo alliance where Tesla uses BMW’s carbon-fiber processes to lighten future models while simultaneously providing BMW with a cost-effective and high-tech source of battery cells.
At the time of writing BMW hasn’t confirmed or denied the potential partnership, but earlier this year BMW met with Tesla to discuss the potential of working together on charging station technology to ensure that their cars could share charging infrastructure. BMW’s finance arm is also the chosen finance partner for Tesla in the UK, where BMW finance underwrites Tesla’s finance packages.
As for Tesla’s patents? While it’s true that Tesla’s decision earlier this year to make many of its patents open source could theoretically mean BMW could use Tesla-derived technology without a formal partnership, working together in a more structured way could help both companies lay a secure and unbeatable path forward in the world of plug-in cars.
[UPDATE: Official Statement from Tesla Spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean, December 2, 2014]
“The story is pretty straightforward. Elon was asked a question by Der Spiegel, he answered it honestly and frankly, and the reporters wrote down the answer. Everything beyond Elon’s offhand remarks was speculation, and I’m sorry to say that the reports do not reflect the true nature of the events. Good for headlines, bad for accuracy. Not only did Elon not “talk up a partnership” with BMW, we actively sought to squash any such rumors the moment they surfaced. Elon respects BMW as a company and we have talked informally about many things, but at no point did he claim there was any partnership or serious discussions.”
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