If, as basic economic theory teaches, something is worth only what someone or group of people is willing to pay for it, then it seems the intellectual property associated with electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells is worthless.
Ford Motor is the latest car company to make this case. Today Ford joined Toyota Motor and Tesla Motors in making a vast range of patented electrification technologies available to its competitors. All free for serious EV developers.
Therefore the technologies are worthless if you accept the idea that worth of a good or a service is determined by markets. Ford cannot make any money selling or using the more than 400 dedicated electric vehicle technology patents it filed in 2014 alone.
"Innovation is our goal," said Kevin Layden, director, Ford Electrification Programs. Sharing all that Ford knows about electrification will "accelerate" the cause of EVs, he said. "By sharing ideas, companies can solve bigger challenges and help improve the industry."
Oh, really? Car companies fiercely guard their know-how, their future product plans, and their market intelligence unless it suits their economic purposes to do otherwise. Public companies don't act out of pure altruism; they act to create value for their shareholders.
Thus, Ford Motor has decided it cannot hope to earn profits by going it alone with its EV program. Earlier this year, Toyota made the same admission about its hydrogen-powered vehicle technology – which is essentially electrification of the automobile by another name. In January, Toyota said it would follow in the footsteps of Tesla by sharing its 5,680 patents related to fuel-cell vehicles. (Fuel-cell vehicles, or FCVs, run on electricity generated by combining hydrogen with oxygen. Water vapour is the only emission.)
"One car company alone cannot create a hydrogen society. It needs to be a worldwide effort," Toyota president Akio Toyoda told reporters.
Before Toyota, in June of 2014 Tesla opened up its patent vault for anyone to use in good faith.
"We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform," said CEO Elon Musk. "We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla's position in this regard."
Musk conceded last year that Tesla is too small to make electrified vehicles a mass-market reality. Now Toyota, the world's largest car company, and No. 5 Ford have also conceded that they alone can't make electrified vehicles a mainstream reality by themselves.
Indeed, as Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants points out in a recent note to clients. "Hybrid vehicles have been in the market for over 15 years. In those 15 years Canadian consumers have bought well over 20 million internal combustion engine vehicles.
"In the same time frame they have bought approximately 150,000 hybrid vehicles. An even more meagre number is sales of pure electric vehicles.
"Now in their fourth year of availability consumers in Canada have bought a grand total of 1,100 per year."
As DesRosiers adds, hybrids and plug-ins are widely available now and three large provinces will even bribe you with a subsidy to buy one. "Yet by any standard sales have disappointed."
Thus car companies giant and tiny are giving away their know-how, apparently desperate to trigger some change in the EV marketplace. We can only wait and see if this giveaway sparks EVs in the future.
Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
Add us to your circles
Sign up for our weekly newsletter