21 May 2010

Toyota Buying Tesla Stake for Electric Car Tie-Up

Bloomberg / Business Week

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, is buying a $50 million stake in the Californian electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. as automakers compete to offer low-polluting models in the U.S.

Tesla will also buy a closed Toyota joint-venture factory in California to build its Model S and other vehicles, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said yesterday. The companies said they’ll cooperate in developing electric cars, parts, production systems and engineering support.

The deal may help Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker, compete with Nissan Motor Co. and General Motors Co. in selling electric cars in the U.S., where regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel efficiency are pushing them to offer advanced vehicles. It may also help the Toyota City, Japan-based company’s image, battered by recalls, by reviving the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, California, known as NUMMI.

“This seems like a good deal for both parties, especially Toyota, from being able to avoid the political fallout from shutting NUMMI down to being able to offer a new electric vehicle with just a low initial investment cost,” said Jeremy Anwyl, Chief Executive Officer at auto industry researcher Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California.

Joining Daimler

The size of Toyota’s stake in Tesla hasn’t been fixed ahead of a share sale by Tesla, Musk said in an interview. Daimler AG in May 2009 invested about $50 million in Tesla, which is supplying battery packs to the Stuttgart, Germany-based company for a test fleet of electric Smart minicars.

In July, Daimler sold a portion of its share of Tesla to the German automaker’s largest investor, Aabar Investments PJSC, reducing its stake to about 5 percent.

Daimler “welcomed” Tesla’s partnership with Toyota, which “likewise has the goal of advancing electric vehicles,” said Brigitte Bertram, a Daimler spokeswoman for the automaker in Stuttgart, Germany. The Toyota-Tesla linkup “doesn’t impede” Daimler’s cooperation with the California automaker.

Toyota fell 1.9 percent to 3,355 yen in Tokyo, while Nissan dropped 3.4 percent and Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second-largest carmaker, declined 2.5 percent.

The tie-up brings Toyota, the world’s biggest seller of hybrid autos, together with Tesla, the only company now selling U.S. highway-legal battery-powered cars. Electric-car technology has been supported by U.S. policy makers including President Barack Obama as a way to reduce the nation’s oil use and dependence on foreign energy sources.

Obama set a goal of getting 1 million plug-in hybrids and electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015.

Nissan, GM

Nissan is preparing to introduce its Leaf electric hatchback, powered by a lithium-ion battery pack, in Japan and the U.S. this year. Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn has set a goal of leading sales of rechargeable vehicles, which he estimates may make up 10 percent of global auto demand by 2020, and is spending more than 500 billion yen ($5.5 billion) developing electric cars.

GM plans to introduce its Volt plug-in car in October. The car will initially be marketed to drivers in California, which requires large automakers to offer some vehicles that emit little or no tailpipe pollution.

Toyota intends to offer a short-range, “urban commuter” electric car in the U.S. in 2012 and begin retail sales of a plug-in Prius hybrid the same year.

Toyota, which will continue to develop its own electric vehicle, said Tesla’s long-distance models give the Japanese automaker more options. Toyota said hybrids should remain a more practical option for most customers until electric cars become more popular.

Share Sale

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla has 2,000 reservations for the Model S sedan and intends to begin “volume” production of the car in 2012, with a projected annual output of as much as 20,000 a year. The company has delivered about 1,000 of its $109,000 Roadster electric sports cars, while losing more than $230 million.

Tesla hasn’t posted a profit in the six years since it was founded. The company plans to use proceeds from an initial share sale and a $465 million government loan to help produce the Model S, an electric car that is to cost less than $50,000 after a federal tax credit.

Fund Raising

Tesla aims to raise about $100 million from its share sale and has said it may use proceeds to pay for factories and equipment estimated to cost as much as $125 million this year, and for acquisitions.

“I’ve felt an infinite possibility about Tesla’s technology,” said Akio Toyoda, chief executive officer of Toyota, founded by his grandfather. “By partnering with Tesla, my hope is that all Toyota employees will recall that ‘venture business’ spirit.”

The company is backed by investors including Mountain View, California-based Google Inc.’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the government of Abu Dhabi. Daimler, the world’s second-biggest maker of luxury vehicles, invested last May. Tesla said Musk told Daimler about the Toyota partnership on May 19.

The revival of NUMMI, for 25 years a joint venture between Toyota and the former General Motors Co., will create 1,000 jobs, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said. The plant closed in April.

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