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If Tesla opens up its Supercharger patents, that’s not so controversial — just more Google than Apple

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Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk hinted at the company’s shareholder’s meeting last week that Tesla was going to do something “fairly controversial” with Tesla’s patents, leading some to ponder whether it might straight up open-source its IP — which would be almost shocking, given how much technical expertise Tesla has piled up on electric cars, vehicle design and car software in general. But Musk clarified at the launch of the U.K. right-hand drive Model S that Tesla plans, specifically, to open up the designs of its Supercharger network, which could help create a tech standard for charging that other electric car makers could adopt.

So, no. Tesla isn’t going open-source itself, and in my opinion it isn’t doing something all that controversial. The move might be controversial inside Tesla, which has long played by an Apple-like closed rule book, but in a nascent electric car market, it makes sense that Tesla would need to take a more Google-inspired approach to helping build out the overall market for electric cars.

Tesla Model S, image courtesy of Tesla.
Tesla Model S, image courtesy of Tesla

Over the years Google has taken this open strategy in various ways, both to get more broadband access out there and to popularize its platforms. The idea is that if there are more broadband connections (Google’s free city Wi-Fi for example), there are more people using Google products in general. This was particularly important in the earlier days of the internet when Google was ultimately constrained by the amount of users with fast internet connections.

Tesla is now constrained by a couple things, but one of the major hurdles is simply the nascent, small electric car market in general (as well as the high price of its currently available cars). As more and more people buy electric cars from any car company, Tesla’s available market will also grow.

Nissan LEAF, image courtesy of Nissan.
Nissan LEAF, image courtesy of Nissan

Last year 96,000 plug-in electric cars were sold in the U.S. — just a little bit more than 0.5 percent of the total U.S. vehicle market of 16.5 million. Yes, that’s just the U.S. market, and electric-car-friendly markets like Norway are already eager. But Norway is tiny. The development of the global electric car market will take many years, but Tesla can help push the overall market forward by getting more chargers out there that can support EVs.

Now, who knows if other auto companies will even be interested in Tesla’s idea. Car companies might have to abide by Tesla’s business model (free electricity along with the car) if they use Tesla Supercharger designs.

It will be interesting to see how electric car charging companies will react to this news. In the same way that Google tends to step smack in the middle of a market, putting a half-dozen startups out of business, Tesla giving away its charging designs, could undermine all those companies out there that sell charging infrastructure. But then again, that market doesn’t seem all that great of a place to be anyway.

7 Responses to “If Tesla opens up its Supercharger patents, that’s not so controversial — just more Google than Apple”

  1. Don’t get me wrong, I would love electric. I am sick of the oil company scams … but … Nobody wants “Tiny Electric Cars”! We want REAL cars, trucks and massive SUVs and if they can give a 500 mile range on electric then great! But electric has a long way to go, I don’t want to give up safety / room / luxury just to have electric. They seem to have to subsidize cost and “scam” ratings just to make electric cars barely feasible. For example “range” is a flat out lie because the outside temp is not always 70degrees so battery stinks in cold and extreme hot or if you use AC/heat! Also, you can’t even use “regular” tires on those things, they use special reduced rolling resistance tires that take an extra 40 feet to stop when braking from 60mph-0mph, that “little” bit can be the difference in avoiding an accident. Also, along with electric comes additional spying because you are not paying gas tax, well they want to start placing GPS on ALL cars because of this and tax per MILE and know where you are 100% of the time.. ridiculous …

    • I have no idea why you’re spouting rubbish. For starts, Tesla Model S scored the highest safety rating than every single other car in the US.
      “Independent testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded the Tesla Model S a 5-star safety rating, not just overall, but in every subcategory without exception. Approximately one percent of all cars tested by the federal government achieve 5 stars across the board. NHTSA does not publish a star rating above 5, however safety levels better than 5 stars are captured in the overall Vehicle Safety Score (VSS) provided to manufacturers, where the Model S achieved a new combined record of 5.4 stars.”
      Also, the Tesla Model S won the 2 biggest car awards in the world, beating every other car, including gas cars. Even beat Porsche. So, your telling me that all of these judges, car shows, safety people, etc. are all lying to us?

  2. sagebrush6

    There are several Tesla’s in my town and I have talked to the owners and they love them. Said they were the best car they had ever purchased. Hard to beat an answer like that. I may have to check into buying one for my next car.

    • 16.5 M may be a typo – last year about 15.6 M cars were sold in the US. This changes the 96,000 electrics to .6 percent instead of .5 percent of the market share. Still a tiny fraction of the vehicles on the road.