The California-based electric automaker and the Japanese company – the world’s largest carmaker – had a great early start in 2010. Toyota bought a $50 million stake in Tesla and sold them a car factory, while the latter retrofitted the RAV4 SUV with electric drive.
Today, a few years later, the RAV4 SUV didn’t even get 2,000 deliveries – it was slapped with a huge price tag and California-only availability – and other projects rumored back then never materialized.
“Just because two companies are successful doesn’t mean when they come together, they will succeed,” said Ashvin Chotai, managing director of Intelligence Automotive Asia. “When you’ve got somebody threatening the status quo in an industry and they try to cooperate with the biggest player, it’s bound to lead to so many complexities.”
“When Akio (Toyoda) got involved in this with Elon (Musk), I think it went beyond batteries,” says Jim Lentz, head of Toyota’s North American operations. “It was about teaming up with this very entrepreneurial, small startup in the automobile business.”
According to sources from within the companies, the projects were a hassle for both teams, signaling a deep cultural clash. Tesla though benefited from the common projects – it got money, a dirt-cheap plant and most of all – lots of credibility. On the other hand, Toyota – the leader in the hybrid vehicles segment – is swaying from battery powered electric cars towards the fuel cell system.