Spreading the Wealth: Tesla has Been Chatting with BMW About Batteries

Tesla Model S, photographed in Switzerland by James Lipman // jameslipman.com

Tesla Motors has attracted immense amounts of attention not only from consumers, but from other businesses, as well. Whether it’s due to the company’s unconventional business practices or its groundbreaking product, automakers all over the world have had an eye on the EV startup for years now, and as the Fremont-based Tesla continues to grow, companies are exploring ways in which they can harness Tesla’s ethos for themselves.

Tesla has already formed strategic partnerships with Daimler and Toyota, both of which are (or at least were) significant stakeholders in the company. For Toyota, the venture took the form of the RAV4 EV, and for Daimler, Tesla’s electric powertrain forms the underpinnings of the B Class electric. Apparently, Tesla is looking to expand its relationship with other automakers, and has reportedly been chatting to BMW about lending a hand to the German marque’s electric car business.

“We are talking about whether we can collaborate in battery technology or charging stations,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk was quoted as saying in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel. He noted that he finds BMW’s production of carbon fiber reinforced car body parts as “interesting” and “relatively cost efficient,” according to Reuters. BMW’s i3 and i8 electric and plug-in hybrid cars rely on a carbon fiber reinforced plastic passenger pod (or “Life Module”) to help shave off weight.

Weight is perhaps one of the greatest hindrances for electric vehicles. Though they don’t include a hefty fuel tank or internal combustion engine or transmission, EVs rely on heavy batteries for propulsion, and only so much weight can be shed from the bodywork and interior and so on. Therefore, using lighter weight materials in the basic construction of the car could help save valuable pounds. A Tesla Model S, though it lacks the transmission, engine, and fuel delivery system of a gasoline car, weighs about 400 pounds more than a comparable Audi A7.

BMW i8

BMW couldn’t be reached for comments on the story at the time of the Reuters write-up, but we’d be hugely surprised if they didn’t back Musk’s statements; a partnership between the two companies would simply make sense, for both parties. On one hand, you have the established automaker making its first foray into 100% electric vehicles, and on the other, the upstart young member of the league that specializes in just that. BMW stands to benefit from Tesla’s expertise in terms of charging and battery technology, and in turn can help Tesla scale up its operations.

No specific details were divulged as a part of the report, but “BMW and Tesla executives already met in June to discuss the creation of charging stations usable for different types of electric cars,” Reuters said.

In a couple years, Tesla will be in the unique position of serving as both an OEM as well as a supplier once its Gigafactory in Nevada is completed, and it begins rolling lithium ion battery packs off its production lines. In addition to allowing the company to seriously increase its own production, the plant is expected to help bring the cost of the pricey units down considerably. Tesla will also have production runs reserved for batteries that will be sold to other automakers for their own vehicles.

Musk said that within five or six years, Tesla is hoping to have a battery plant in Germany, he told Der Spiegel. This would presumably supply Tesla’s European division with the needed cells, as well as other companies — like BMW. Strategically speaking, a partnership with the latter could prove to be highly lucrative in the long run, perhaps for both companies.