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Tesla, Daimler Team Up for Smart Batteries, Daimler Takes 10 Percent Stake

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elondaimlerDaimler AG (s DAI) has invested a “double-digit million-dollar sum for about a 10 percent stake” in Tesla Motors as part of a new strategic partnership between the German automaker and the Silicon Valley electric sports car startup. Speaking at a press conference in Stuttgart, Germany this morning, Tesla CEO Elon Musk (pictured) and Daimler’s Thomas Weber, who is responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz cars development, announced that Daimler will use battery packs from Tesla for the electric Smart cars slated to launch commercially in 2012. The companies have also agreed to share expertise for future models, and Daimler will take a seat on Tesla’s board of directors.

Today’s deal does not mean Daimler is abandoning a joint venture with battery maker Evonik, or that Tesla is a shoe-in for supplying the battery packs for other Daimler models. Tesla does not develop or manufacture battery cells in-house, and Musk said today that the company could very well assemble battery packs using controls and cooling systems developed at Tesla, with cells from Evonik subsidiary Li-Tec, in the future. (General Motors (s GM) is taking a similar approach with the batteries for its Chevy Volt, assembling battery packs with cells from LG Chem.)
When it comes to choosing a cell maker, Musk said, “We are agnostic. We are very interested in using a Li-Tec cell, or Panasonic, Sony, LG — whatever delivers the best product for the customer.”

Weber said that today’s decision regarding the 2012 Smart EV is “completely independent” of decisions for battery packs in other vehicle families. He explained that the primary motivation for today’s deal was to get an electric car on the market as fast as possible.

As for Tesla, Musk said the company wanted to partner with a “senior,” experienced auto company. Many battery makers are seeking similar alliances these days ahead of the deadline for a Department of Energy grant program created as part of the stimulus package, since applicants with committed customers will get a boost in the evaluation process. Although Tesla is pursuing hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds to launch its delayed Model S electric sedan concept into production, Musk said that the company does not need capital “immediately.” In fact, he added, Tesla could have gotten a higher share price from a private investor. But while Tesla has experience with battery packs, he said, “Daimler brings the expertise of everything else.”