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Tesla releasing its patents to the will of the public and private sector is certainly a bold move and leaves a lot of questions unanswered: Like why the heck would it do something like that? Here’s some theories on what sparked the company to “clear the path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles.”

1. Publicity

Remember the Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s beautiful and well-illustrated idea for developing a superfast transit line between L.A. and San Francisco? It was a theory that garnered Musk a lot of press for being a crazy genius. Publicity stunts are not new for the startup entrepreneur, and opening up Tesla’s patents likely earned Musk major kudos with the open source community. While it’s certainly noble, “opening” the patents is a verbal agreement. Until those patents expire, using the tech they protect is a risky business move.

2. Tesla has the EV-battery market cornered

So far, no car company has been able to develop a battery as efficient and long-lasting as Tesla’s. There are hybrids, there are short-range EVs, and there are luxury EVs, but none of them offer Tesla’s sports car-like handling and the capability to supercharge on the go. The rest of the electric vehicle market severely lags behind Tesla’s tech, and this potentially holds back the industry. Opening up Tesla’s signature technology could help breed electric innovation beyond Tesla and maybe reinvigorate electric-vehicle development.

3. Not enough consumer interest

The U.S. has less than 30,000 electric stations and plug-in outlets for the 170,000 electric and hybrid vehicles on its road. Most EVs only go 75 miles to 125 miles before they need to refuel. Additionally, electric cars take anywhere from 40 minutes to 15 hours to charge depending on the level of voltage coming from the plug. The average person, therefore, has a lot of reasons to pass on an EV. Opening up supercharge stations and Tesla’s patents could spur innovation and interest in electric vehicles — especially in the creation of EVs at lower prices.

4. Enthusiasm for electric cars is cooling

Toyota, one of the top sellers of EV and hybrid cars, struck up a partnership with Telsa in 2010 so it could take advantage of Tesla’s battery technology for an electric Rav4. Despite Tesla’s definite cool factor, the car didn’t sell well. In May of this year, Toyota allowed its battery supply contract with Tesla to lapse and has said its shifting its focus entirely. The whole experiment showed that consumers just may not want a fully electric vehicle.

5. Fuel Cell

Auto makers have a renewed interest in fuel-cell cars. In 2015, at least five car companies are launching FCVs. Fuel-cell veteran Honda Clarity is building it’s 2015 generation. Hyundai has already released its fuel-cell ix35 in Europe and is investing in a fuel-cell station in California. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz is piloting its B-Class F-Cell around California. Nissan signed an agreement in January of 2013 with Daimler and Ford to build a common fuel-cell system and hopes to release a fuel-cell EV in 2017. Toyota will also be among them.

Sure there are barely any hydrogen fueling stations, but fuel-cell cars go at least 240 miles before they need to refuel — about twice as far as the average EV — and only take five minutes to fill-up. At the very least, automakers are very interested in FCVs, which may be a scary prospect for Tesla.


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