There’s no question that Tesla is the most interesting car company in the world.
Morgan Stanley lead auto analyst Adam Jonas has gone a step farther and declared that Tesla is the most important car company in the world.
So a lively moment was generated on Friday when, after Ford reported its third-quarter earnings, CEO Mark Fields fielded questions from Wall Street. Jonas suggested that Ford had probably obtained a Tesla Model S sedan and…investigated its secrets.
Fields was quick to affirm Jonas’s suspicions.
“We have driven the Model S, torn it down, put it back together, and driven it again,” said Fields, who moved into the big chair at Ford in July. “We’re very familiar with that product.”
“How,” you might ask, “could Ford do such a thing?”
Teardowns in the consumer-electronics realm are pretty routine. Anyone with the right tools can take their iPhone or iMac apart. A key follow-up feature of new product launches from Apple and everyone else is the near-immediate teardowns that happen as soon as the new stuff hits the market.
Obviously, you need a bit more space, some more tools, and a fair amount of expertise to take apart a $US100,000 luxury sedan (And put it back together!).
But then again, Ford builds cars for a living, so it’s safe to assume that its engineers know what they’re doing.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk isn’t going to be terribly shocked to hear Fields admit that Ford is a fan of the Model S, at a deeply gearhead-y level. Every other major carmaker that can get a Model S is going to tear it apart, as well. Teslas surely lie in pieces in the top-secret skunkworks garages of every automaker on Earth.
But what about Tesla itself? Do Musk & Co. tear apart competing vehicles?
They really don’t have to. Tesla is the electric car industry at this point. Its startup competition has fallen by the wayside, and the major carmakers have limited their electric-vehicle ambitions. Tesla can simply keep doing more of what it has been doing. Repetition — and continued execution on promises — is its own version of success, as long as the company doesn’t forget the scrappy days of the 2008-09 period, when it almost went under.
Additionally, beyond its battery technology — which at this point is well understood — Tesla’s innovation is more on the software and electric-charging infrastructure side. Big carmakers already know how to build a very expensive car that runs on electricity.
It’s also worth noting that Tesla isn’t particularly invested in protecting its intellectual property from potential competitors. Earlier this year, Musk made the very unusual announcement that Tesla would be opening up its patents for all to see.
Still, it’s amazing to hear that a carmaker like Ford, with a history stretching back 100 years, is still intrigued enough by the new kid on the block to get one of that kid’s cars and rip it to pieces, just to learn exactly how it works.
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