It’s not unlike Tesla to take the road less traveled.

Since its beginnings as a startup electric car company in the midst of a historically gasoline-powered industry, Tesla has continued to gain widespread attention for its unconventional approaches — and is now turning heads from both the tech and automotive worlds.

According to a June 12 company blog post from CEO Elon Musk, Tesla has made their patents — all several hundred of them — “open source,” meaning other car companies now have access to Tesla patents and can use their technology as long as it’s “in good faith.” The reasons: to advance electric vehicle technology, reduce competition from the “flood” of gasoline cars, and promote a “common, rapidly-evolving technology platform” for the world’s benefit.

During a June 14 press conference, Musk stressed the importance of innovation and how it’s often lost because of the patent process, mentioning how the patent system may need reform. He also stated that Tesla will still continue to make patents, and said the number will ultimately increase to several thousand over time.

This move is largely unprecedented for automakers, yet is actually more prevalent in the tech industry. However, tech companies have had their share of controversies involving patents — such as in the battle of patent lawsuits between Apple and Samsung, as Musk pointed out during the conference.

“Who’s really benefiting there?” Musk asked. “It seems like they’re both losing.”

Tesla is notably tied to Silicon Valley, both in ideals and location. In 2010, Tesla purchased what was  formerly the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont — which Toyota and  General Motors shared at one point, before it closed down in 2009. Tesla’s headquarters are located near its factory, in Palo Alto — both pretty far from their counterparts in Detroit.

Currently, Tesla employs over 6,000 workers in California and plans to hire 500 more by the end of the year, a spokesman told Bloomberg. With that worker count, it’s the largest automaker in the the state.

Tesla’s appeal to the local workforce was recently seen when the company scheduled a job fair at their East Bay factory, which attracted hundreds of job seekers and caused major blockage on the I-880, thus triggering a response from the Fremont police department.

Even with Tesla’s growing success — its stock is currently at around 25 billion and it’s now worth more than four other car companies — it has hardly made a dent in the overall number of cars that are manufactured, and electric cars in general make up less than 1 percent of the global fleet of cars, which is around 2 billion.

Currently, it is “impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis,” said Musk.

However, some critics believe that switching to electric cars isn’t the solution when it comes to the environment.

“The notion that jumping into electric vehicles is okay is a problem in itself,” said Al Weinrub, coordinator at Local Green Energy Alliance based in Oakland. He noted how promoting electric vehicles helps the electric vehicle industry, but is just another way of selling cars.

Weinrub suggested that getting off of vehicles period and reducing the number of roads that are constructed are more environmentally beneficial decisions. He explained that vehicles — whether gas or electric — emit carbon every time they’re manufactured, shipped, and purchased.

“The electric car itself is not a solution to any problem,” said Weinrub, “but it could be a part of a broader solution.”

5 Responses

  1. R2D2II

    As Weinrub says, cars, however they are propelled, are the problem. The solution is the bicycle.

  2. Oakie

    Oh, I disagree here, R2D2II. I have nothing against bikes, but….

    There are two revolutions happening almost instantly (compared to the historical development of the car): conversion to all electric cars and self-driven cars. This combination is going to make a huge revolution in car transportation, and I don’t think anyone sees it coming. Remember: the iPhone is less than 7 years old and yet absolutely no one is using anything but a smart phone. That’s how fast this will change car transportation.

    So mix Uber/Lyft, Google Car and Tesla. That will make a soufflé that eliminates the need to own a car. Or park that car: if these new cars are used efficiently, operating continuously, then there is no need for street parking.

    What people need is transportation. You get on your phone app and order a car service specifying your needs (number of people and room needed for what you’re carrying, starting and end points). Streets can be reconfigured (to the benefit of bicyclers) to be safer and provide a notable reduction in traffic congestion. It’s win-win-win. Except for those guys with petroleum who use our money to harm us.

    I give this 10-15 years – IF the politicians/special power interests and their greed for money don’t prevent it. Let Elon Musk and his type flourish and things will get much better for our kids, who don’t really want to own or drive a car anyway. They’re too busy on their smart phones. I’m with them.

  3. R2D2IIr

    Oakie–No, absolutely. The notion that human beings must be in motion 24/7 is quintessentially insane.

    We have constructed a social system based on maximizing fossil fuel use and maximizing use of corresponding transportation technologies, particularly the car and the airplane. It doesn’t matter how these technologies are refined, the fundamental notion is nuts.

    Maximizing motion has no necessary connection to productivity, human progress or happiness. And it’s fundamentally unsustainable. Heard about climate change?

    It’s important not only to have a historical perspective, but to travel to parts of the world, great European cities for example, where people are not continually in motion in cars because the fossil fuel and related industries do not have primary social control. Responsible democratic governments tax fossil fuels appropriately, which we do not, and they invest in public transit infrastructure which serves urban populations very efficiently.

    Anyone who has been around for a few decades can remember what the Bay Area was like before it was oversaturated with cars. A very much more socially-hospitable environment. Many books on the topic of the evolution of the automobile-dominated urban landscape and the destructive social and economic effects. Every heard of a place called Detroit?

    One of the classic writers on this topic was a Mexican Roman Catholic Priest named Ivan Illich. I suggest you read his Energy and Equity. Illich points out that the faster people can travel the more of their lives they spend in transit. Much, if not most, of the mileage that people travel in cars and airplanes has no productive social function other than to maintain the bottom lines of the energy and related industries.

    Having a clue about this really requires thinking a bit out of the box.

  4. Oakie

    Ok, I’ll check that book out. I always loved the freedom of movement. Especially when I had a ’66 Mustang and gas was 25 cents a gallon (of course I only made $1/hr at McDonalds, but gas seemed inexpensive at the time when there was no budget for an iPhone and phone plan).

    My experience in Europe and elsewhere was that movement was just as important to them, only the modes depended on the economics of the place. When I travelled in China in 1984 I saw not a single privately owned car anywhere. Now they have way too many, but as soon as the economics changed they followed exactly what we’ve done. Even Paris, in the center of the city sitting at an outdoor cafe, there are tons of private cars zooming right by.

  5. R2D2II

    “I always loved the freedom of movement. Especially when I had a ’66 Mustang and gas was 25 cents a gallon…”

    I remember well filling up my VW Rabbit when gas was 25 cents. Important to keep in mind that with the smaller dollar, gas costs just the equivalent of about 50 cents today. Still incredibly cheap. Still heavily subsidized, tax-advantaged, etc.

    There’s no denying the attraction of freedom of movement. But sufficient freedom of movement is very different from the promotion of maximum use of fossil fuel and the organization of transportation into the most expensive and environmentally-costly system possible, all for the benefit of Exxon, et al, to include Elon Musk and the Google self-driver program. Keep in mind that Tesla/Google/all of Big Brother are heavily subsidized, pay tiny taxes etc.

    Other great books in the genre include John Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere.


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