After Tesla reported a profit for the second quarter in a row, Elon Musk took to Twitter on January 31 to celebrate the electric transportation revolution, which is the primary reason for Tesla’s existence.
Exciting to see all the new electric vehicles coming to market! We created Tesla to accelerate a sustainable future & it’s happening!https://t.co/IqREiDqIyL
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 31, 2019
Musk’s tweet referenced a story by CNBC that started this way: “It’s been nearly a century since any automaker was in a more enviable position than Tesla. Despite relatively disappointing fourth-quarter earnings that missed analysts’ estimates, Tesla finished 2018 with an astounding 83 percent share of the U.S. battery-electric vehicle market, CEO Elon Musk boasted Wednesday. That hasn’t happened since the years following the start-up of Ford’s first moving assembly line.”
Musk followed up his tweet with another which repeated a line he first used in a 2014 blog post. “Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” Indeed. Despite the fact that every major manufacturer is now preparing their own response to Tesla, the transition to electric transportation is going too slowly to match the urgency of the threats to society presented by a warming planet.
As Driven points out, that blog post from 2014 is still relevant and contains ideas that are worth repeating today. Here it is in its entirety:
Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.
When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.
At Tesla, however, we felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.
At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.
Given that annual new vehicle production is approaching 100 million per year and the global fleet is approximately 2 billion cars, it is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.
We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.
Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.
Despite all the hype and drama associated with the number of Model 3s delivered, the tumultuous rise and fall of the company’s stock price, and the swirling rumors about Musk’s personal life, the mission of Tesla has not changed one iota since it began. Nothing short of electrifying the entire transportation sector will fulfill its quest. It is imperative to view any analysis of Tesla through the prism of Musk’s words in that blog post from 2014. A failure to do so runs the risk of completely missing the point.
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