Weekend Head Scratcher: Should Toyota Buy, Sell Or Hold Tesla?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
weekend head scratcher should toyota buy sell or hold tesla

Having ignored the first wave of EV enthusiasm, Toyota turned to Tesla in the aftermath of its recall scandal as an investment that could potentially catch it up with other EV makers, and possibly help its battered image along the way. Officially, the deal was brokered after Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda drove the Tesla Roadster, and came away impressed with its “splendid flavor.” Toyota then dropped $50m on Tesla’s stock and another $60m on the Tesla-developed RAV4 EV prototype, raising the possibility of re-starting production at the NUMMI plant, which Tesla bought from Toyota as part of the hookup. But with Toyota also developing an EV city car in-house and talking up the return of hydrogen cars, Tesla’s role in Toyota’s future is clear as mud. If the RAV4 EV makes financial sense, Tesla could contract-build them at NUMMI, adding much-needed volume to a giant factory that would otherwise be building only the Model S (at a rate of about 20k per year). But there’s the rub: Tesla clearly needs Toyota more than the other way around; it needs Toyota’s volume, manufacturing expertise and legitimacy. But what will Toyota get out of the relationship? An expensive EV compact crossover? Goodwill from the American people? The ability to keep in-house development looking past a short-term fad for EVs?

So here’s today’s puzzle: if you were Akio Toyoda, would you A) double down on Tesla, and buy a controlling share or even roll it into the parent company, B) quietly sell the stake and move on, or C) keep Tesla around as a speculative EV offshoot of the main company? It’s a complex question, and answers should touch on the market potential of EVs, Tesla’s strategy and viability, Toyota’s relationship with EVs, the PR benefits of keeping an American EV startup alive, and much, much more. Enjoy!

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2 of 26 comments
  • George B George B on Nov 22, 2010

    SELL! Toyota got Tesla to buy the white elephant NUMMI factory, a win, and any further involvement will likely be a net loss.

  • JMII JMII on Nov 22, 2010

    Buy! I can see the Toyota's, well actually Lexus's (Lexi?) at first with "powered by Telsa, suspension by Lotus" badges all over them. Everyone knows what a Prius is and a good amount of people know what a Telsa is. Pretty soon they'll know Leaf and Volt. If Toyota buys Telsa they become an EV powerhouse. Some may argue that they already unbeatable in the EV arena, but the competition is coming and the only way for Toyota to maintain their lead is make another jump ahead.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)