Silicon Valley electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors got another shot in the arm today from German auto giant Daimler, which took a 10 percent stake in the company and expanded its partnership with Tesla to equip future Mercedes-Benz vehicles with electric lithium-ion batteries. Mercedes has been testing Tesla’s batteries in a fleet of 100 smart cars, and is already moving into limited production. But with this agreement, Mercedes now expects to roll out its first battery-powered Mercedes-Benz in 2010, and offer battery-powered vehicles for all of its models by 2012.
The amount invested was not disclosed, but even more valuable to Tesla is the vote of confidence from one of the world’s leading auto companies. In a press release, Daimler proclaims: “Tesla is the only production automaker selling a highway capable electric vehicle in North America and Europe.”
The money will no doubt help as well, since Tesla still needs a few hundred million dollars to produce its own $50,000 Model S, which is half the price of its first car, the Tesla Roadster. The company is still applying for $450 million in government loans to get the Model S into production, but it looks like Mercedes will have at least its B-class cars on the road first.
But as I suggested a year ago, Tesla’s real business may be in supplying the electric drive trains for other vehicles. The Roadster and Model S might just turn out to be really expensive demos. In a TechCrunch poll I inserted into that post (and again below), 77 percent of you agreed. I wonder if Mercedes has an exclusive license to Tesla’s battery technology, at least for a few years. (Update: Tesla says there is no exclusivity. According to spokesperson Rachel Konrad, “This investment obviously establishes a very close relationship between the two companies, but Tesla still plans to continue with its strategy of growing its powertrain business through sales of EV components. This investment does not preclude Tesla from growing such relationships with other automotive OEMs.”)