Mercedes-Benz will have to work hard to catch Tesla, and harder still to beat it.

To Learn Tesla’s Secrets, Ford Spent $200,000 To Buy Nearly-New Tesla Model X Founders’ Edition

For as long as we can remember, reverse engineering has been part of the automotive industry for a very long time. It’s no secret in fact that automakers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year trying to figure out just what gives their rivals a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Here’s how it works. First, automakers send buyers out to buy brand-new examples of rival’s cars, often with cold, hard cash. Then they ship those cars to an engineering facility where they are meticulously stripped down piece by piece in order to understand everything from the financial cost of each component through to the engineering principles behind each discrete system. Once fully reverse engineered, an automaker uses information gleamed from a competitor’s car to improve its own designs and manufacturing processes.

Ford just paid $200,000 to learn Tesla's Model X secrets.

Ford just paid $200,000 to learn Tesla’s Model X secrets.

Traditionally, automakers seeking to obtain a rival’s car have only needed to head to the appropriate new car dealership with a fat wallet. But when it comes to California automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] — a company which only sells its high-end electric cars through Tesla-owned stores and carries no new car inventory on site — it’s harder for mainstream automakers to get their hands on a car to pull apart.

Which is one of the reasons why Detroit auto giant Ford has just reportedly paid $200,000 — well over the current list price for Model X —  to get its hands on a nearly new Tesla Model X electric crossover it can pull apart piece by piece.

Ford doesn't want a 200-mile EV -- but it wants Tesla's secrets nevertheless.

Ford doesn’t want a 200-mile EV — but it wants Tesla’s secrets nevertheless.

The other? Unless you buy used, the only way you can get a Model X today is to place an order with Tesla Motors directly, and even then you’re in for a substantial wait.

As Bloomberg reported this morning, Ford — like many of Tesla’s rivals — has been eager to get its hands on a Model X electric SUV ever since they started rolling off the production lines late last September. But until recently, it hadn’t managed to find one.

Luckily, relief came in the form of Wayne Skiles, a Coin and Jewelry expert from California. A Model S owner, Skiles took part in Tesla’s highly successful inaugural customer referral program and managed to convince 11 people in total to place an order for their own Model S. As a consequence, he met the 10-referral minimum required under the first Tesla customer referral program to qualify him to purchase a brand-new Tesla Model X Founder’s Series for the base-level Model X P90 price of $116,700.

Like the Tesla Model X Signature Series model, the Tesla Model X Founder’s Series was a special order Model X with every option box ticked and a few extras — like custom trim — added as well. But while the Signature Series Model X was available to anyone wealthy enough and fast enough to put down the massive $40,000 deposit for the one thousand or so limited-production run, Model X Founder’s Series was an even rarer beast, only available to those with a personal connection to the brand, either as a company executive or a long-time investor.

Is Ford really going to try and use Tesla tech in its 100-mile Focus EV?

Is Ford really going to try and use Tesla tech in its 100-mile Focus EV?

So rare in fact, that just 100 Model X Founder’s Series were made, meaning anyone with one is bound to get some form of return on their investment at some point in the future.

Despite the rarity of the model in question, Skiles decided to flip his Model X instead. Rather than have his car delivered to his California home address, Skiles told Tesla to deliver his car to Chicago, where he flew to complete the necessary paperwork and take ownership of the new plug in. With that completed, he drove the car to a dealership down the road and sold it for a tidy profit. It’s not clear his short term ownership enabled him to claim the $7,500 Federal tax rebate for buying a new electric car, although we can’t see any technical reason why this wouldn’t be the case, further increasing profit.

That dealership — Corporate Auto of Auburn Hills, Michigan — then sold it to Ford. In total, the Detroit automaker is believed to have paid more than $212,000 for the car after taxes and registration fees. Skiles meanwhile? He made a tidy profit too — more than enough to buy a brand-new Tesla Model 3.

Issuing an official statement to Bloomberg, Ford confirmed that it did indeed purchase the luxury plug-in noting that such practices are common in Motor City.

“It is a common industry practice among many automakers to buy production vehicles for testing as soon as they are released,” a spokesperson said. “Sometimes, this means automakers pay more than sticker price to acquire them as quickly as possible.”

With Ford’s own electrified vehicle investment totalling more than $4.5 billion to date, paying $200,000 for a Tesla Model X isn’t exactly a big spend. But it does seem a tad incongruous for an automaker that maintains it isn’t interested in making a 200-mile electric car (instead insisting that 100-miles of range is more than enough) to spend so much money on a high-end luxury car with a range in excess of 250 miles per charge.

Let’s hope its investment pays off.


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  • vdiv

    A quarter of a million dollars speak louder that words. It would be funny if Tesla remotely limit the range of that X to 100 miles and then play dumb 😉

    • Martin Lacey

      Like your sense of humour vdiv.

      Reckon 77 would be enough to confound FORD!

  • Wild

    I would love to be there at the Tesla service center when Ford brings it’s Model X pieces in a box for service, warranty repairs or recalls.

  • vdiv

    Well, we know exactly how many Fords Tesla had to dissect before they build their models…

  • CDspeed

    Well let’s hope they learn something, we already know GM hasn’t. Sure the Bolt goes over 200 miles per charge, but GM isn’t supporting the quick charging network, and the Bolt is yet another hatchback. It would be amazing if an electric Ford Explorer came out of this.

  • “Skiles told Tesla to deliver his car to Chicago” … of note, state stakes tax is usually based on destination zips ode a product is delivered. The transaction likely netted IL & MI each with ~$20k in state sales taxes.

  • Ford is not likely the only party to learn from this Model X delivery.

    Wonder if Tesla would be examining the vehicle logs after it went dark to see where and how it was driven. 😉

  • Joe Viocoe

    Tesla should put together a list of all the automakers that have paid them for this purpose…

    And recreate the Volvo commercial.

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