Elon Musk saved the world today by giving up the wealth of patents his company owns. And he did it for you.
A more cynical person—like myself, despite my actual, ongoing love for Tesla—would argue that this is a carefully calculated business decision.You don’t get to be Elon Musk, and you don’t get to be Tesla, if you’re not getting something out of every major move you make.
Imagine you’ve designed a new kind of blender. But not just any blender. This blender is magnificent: it has a built-in TV, it dispenses calamine lotion when you get a bee sting, and it has six different speeds. Everyone should want one.
But there’s a problem: it can only blend a particular type of South American grape that you can only get at one store, and that store is across town, which just seems like a pain in the ass. Plus, since nobody owns your blender yet, Big Blender is able to fight you by limiting where you can sell your blenders.
But imagine if you could get more blenders like yours out there! That way, the grape-selling infrastructure would be built up, and lawmakers could have some incentive to fight back against Big Blender.
This is Tesla’s problem. Their amazing blender-car is being held down not by any technical problems, or even a lack of demand (you actually have to pre-order a Tesla; try pre-ordering a Jeep). It’s being held down because it’s a new product category. And it’s a demanding new product category: it’s not like an iPad, which just needed to overcome menstruation jokes and a general sense of “why the hell do I need one of those?”
Tesla needs enough recharging stations to make people comfortable buying an electric car. It also needs to normalize the idea of having one. Moreover, it needs to stop getting sued by car dealers.
So what’s the best way to do that? Get more electric cars on the road. Even if they’re not Teslas.
Tesla will always be synonymous with electric cars. Levi’s doesn’t suffer because Tommy Hilfiger also makes denim pants.
I’m not trying to slam Tesla for being cold and calculating. It’s a good idea, and it’s likely going to benefit a lot of people. But let’s be honest here: Musk and his company won’t be left out of the profits. ♦
Image via Stephen Lam, Reuters