Automobiles



May 22, 2010, 3:00 am

Some Views of the Toyota-Tesla Deal

Will the Toyota-Tesla collaboration on electric cars, announced on Thursday, be a successful marriage of cultures? Opinion appears split, with one analyst saying that the companies complement each other, and another expecting a rapid divorce.

James Bell, an executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book, is skeptical. “I think it opens up more questions than it answers,” he said. “It’s a real confirmation for Tesla, its vision and what it’s trying to do, but it also indicates that Toyota’s electric car technology could be lagging behind Nissan’s. It’s a partnership that could be ripe for unraveling. Toyota is sort of slow and methodical, and how well will that integrate with Tesla, which shoots from the hip as it makes deals and partnerships to build up its business?”

But James Kliesch, a senior engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, was far more sanguine. “Ultimately, this is a good thing,” he said. “Tesla will be able to take advantage of Toyota’s mass production prowess. In order for our nation to meet its climate goals by midcentury, we need to get advanced vehicles such as E.V.’s on the road in quantity and making a difference. The real question is how many will be sold.”

The ink is still drying on the deal, said Ricardo Reyes, a Tesla spokesman, and he said he wanted to clear up a few things about the company’s purchase of the vast Nummi factory in California, formerly a collaboration between General Motors and Toyota. Toyota and Tesla will collaborate on an electric car, he said, but it’s not clear when that will be happen, and it won’t necessarily be built at what is now being called the Tesla factory (or even in California).

The Model S, which will be built at the Tesla factory, is likely to take up only a quarter of the available space, Mr. Reyes said. “Nummi had the capacity for 500,000 cars a year,” he said. “We see the Tesla factory as an investment in the future, where we can produce our smaller third-generation car, hopefully in much higher volumes than the Model S.”

What propelled the Toyota-Tesla deal? According to Mr. Reyes, in part it was simpatico personalities. Akio Toyoda, the president of the Toyota Motor Corporation, and Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, “have personality traits in common,” he said. “They get along very well.”


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