In Autoblog Green Podcast #15 Sam had a nice long chat with Daryl Siry while cruising around in a Roadster.
From where I sit, the most interesting thing is the discussion of Tesla's business model and how it may evolve. I'm not going to transcribe it directly because I'm too lazy for that, but I'll try to convey the gist of it, along with my own views.
I'm sure you all recall the original plan was to use the Roadster to fund Whitestar, and then use Whitestar to fund production of Bluestar, and to grow step-by-step into a full-range, full-volume car maker.
There have always been two major problems with that plan. First, it requires mind-boggling amounts of capital. Tesla has hundreds of millions in venture funding. They need billions to become a high-volume car maker. Second, it requires the company to grow at a crazy rate. Last I heard they had 250 employees, but they'd need tens of thousands. Nobody has any experience growing a company that big that quickly, there is no textbook for doing that.
So. . . Now at least some of them are thinking, maybe we can become an electric powertrain company, and we can get our batteries, motors and control electronics into cars made by established, large car makers. They already have the capital, they have the employees and the experience building and selling cars, and they're accustomed to taking risks in the automotive marketplace. So. . . If our goal is to get lots of electric cars on the road, maybe partnering with them is the way to go.
This doesn't mean Tesla would stop making cars. As Daryl points out, you can't be really good at developing powertrains for cars unless you build some cars. But. . . What he describes seems to be a lot like the business model of Lotus. The main part of their business is Lotus Engineering, who do engineering consulting work for just about every car maker under the sun. (I once read that half the cars on the road had some bits worked on by Lotus.) However, it would be very hard for them to have a viable business without Lotus Cars. The cars they make showcase what they can do, so they are a rolling advertisement for Lotus Engineering. Developing them provides the real-world experience of producing "the whole widget" that Lotus's engineers need.
Daryl seems to envision Tesla turning into an American, EV-oriented counterpart to Lotus.
In many ways I like this plan. I had similar ideas months ago, and I thought it would be a good direction for Tesla to go. It does entail some risks however. . .
Will Tesla find partners? A few years ago when Tesla was founded, nobody wanted to build electric cars. BEVs were poison, and the big car makers wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole. That appears to be changing, but how much of that change is sincere and how much is just a green PR smokescreen?
In the long run, will this be a viable business? If the big car makers go to electric powertrains in a big way, won't they ultimately feel compelled to control that technology and bring it all in-house just as they have the ICE? Also. . . If you're going to copy somebody else's business model, you might want to copy somebody who's hugely successful and profitable. That's not how I would describe Lotus (though they definitely are survivors).