Free Tesla Patents? GM’s Global Battery Systems Director Says No Thanks

Automakers always love it when a journalist asks them about Tesla, and at a recent interview in Chicago, GM Authority posed questions to GM comparing its electrification program with that other U.S. automaker now using GM’s former NUMMI JV assembly plant.

Speaking with Bill Wallace, GM’s director of global battery systems, the topic of the “T Word” was broached and Wallace acknowledged the EV maker’s engineering prowess, but said GM would take its own path.

GM does lay claim to the largest battery lab in North America, is launching the second-gen Volt and all-electric Bolt, and with regard to Tesla’s open-source offer to use patents free of charge, Wallace said GM actually holds more “green” patents.

It holds more, in fact, than any other said Wallace.

“It could be sheer stubbornness that GM chooses not to use Tesla patents in good faith,” wrote GM Authority of its read on Wallace’s reaction, “or it could just as well be that GM has enough resources and technology to create something that’s even better than a Tesla in the future.”

And this all may be true. The company which once “killed” its EV1 does have many talented engineers, and is famous for not using ideas it has developed.

Tesla actually adopted a GM idea for the Model S with the “skateboard” chassis GM once showcased with a hydrogen fuel cell concept – and which it will now adopt to the new Chevrolet Bolt.

At a Houston conference in 2013, former CEO Dan Akerson once mildly scolded a roomful of GM employees as the company which has more unused patents than any other.

“We had people with 20 and 30 patents,” Bloomberg noted Akerson told a crowd in Houston this year. “I was kind of a downer. I said, ‘How many have we commercialized? How many are in our cars?’ None.”

GM does now intend to find new roads, and make up for lost time. The occasion of that speech was when Akerson assigned a Tesla watch team vowing not to be left behind.

And at the rate it is going, there’s reason to believe it will make good. The Bolt is a 200-mile range estimated EV to be produced. To date, the Tesla Model 3 has not been revealed which means GM has beaten Tesla to that punch.

But these are still early days so we will see where respective and independent paths lead.

GM Authority