Tesla and Toyota: More than just batteries

Toyota RAV4 EV is the beginning of an interesting relationship between Tesla and Toyota, but what is the relationship really about?

Tesla and Toyota have a lot to learn from each other, but not about batteries?

David and Goliath become friends

Recently, Tesla's Elon Musk told reporters that Tesla has a lot to learn from Toyota. In particular, the Toyota Way of manufacturing, despite recent recalls, is the best production system in the world according to Musk. As Tesla has had its share of production problems Toyota's production knowledge could be critical as Tesla moves from producing hundreds of cars per year to 20,000 cars per year.

But what does Toyota gain from Tesla?

At next week's LA Auto Show, Toyota and Tesla will debut a Toyota RAV4 electric car produced with a Tesla electric powertrain, and Toyota has expressed interest in learning more about how Tesla combines commercial cells from multiple suppliers. But is that really why Toyota teamed with Tesla?

Many analysts claim the partnership is just PR. In the midst of a seemingly never-ending series of recalls, Toyota needed to deflect attention to something positive.

Certainly, there is probably a good bit of truth to that, especially since the UAW was stepping up protests against Toyota, some involving the NUMMI plant that Toyota will share with Tesla, but Toyota President Akio Toyoda recently added another layer to this story that I find quite interesting.

“The speedy decision-making that's part of its makeup is what we really want to absorb,” said Akio regarding Tesla. “Toyota began as a venture. I think this will give us an opportunity to bring back that spirit.”

These days technology is moving faster than imaginable and is only going to move faster. While making world cars is the new trends these days, such platforms will still need to be flexible – ever more flexible – and able to precisely resonate in numerous, but uniquely different world regions, while incorporating updates across many different technologies almost constantly.

Ultimately, the ability to make speedy decisions will almost assuredly define automotive success as the future unfolds, and a glimpse of that speed is on display via the Tesla/Toyota RAV4 electric car that was announced just 5 months ago, but is essentially already production ready.

While that kind of speed might not be the key to fixing Toyota's quality control problems, it is an interesting glimpse of the future.

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