Will Tesla-Toyota deal help repair Toyota's public image?

The companies announced a deal yesterday in which Tesla will buy a defunct Toyota plant in California, and Toyota will purchase $50 million of Tesla stock.

Paul Sakuma/AP
Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, right, shakes hands with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, during a news conference at Tesla headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Thursday. Tesla will partner with Toyota Motors Corp. to build electric cars at a recently shuttered auto plant in the San Francisco Bay area.

In a move that may provide a spark for the electric automobile industry, Toyota, the world's largest automaker, is teaming up Tesla Motors Inc, the makers of the only highway-legal all-electric car in the United States.

The companies announced a deal yesterday in which Tesla will buy a defunct Toyota plant in California where it will produce the model S, an electric sedan slated for 2012.

Toyota, meanwhile, will buy $50 million worth of Tesla stock, and the two companies announced Thursday that they will work together to develop new electric vehicle technologies and refine manufacturing methods.

In this symbiotic business deal, Tesla will likely benefit from direct knowledge of Toyota's economy of scale and links to a vast supplier base.

Toyota, for its part, might get a boost in its competition with other carmakers over the growing environmentally friendly vehicle marketplace. Tesla's advanced lithium-ion batteries, for example, might steer the way for Toyota as the Japanese automaker looks to replace the older nickel-metal hydride units found in its hybrid Prius.

The news of the deal might add bit of much-needed polish to Toyota's public image, which has been battered by the ongoing brouhaha and recalls regarding unintended accelerations that have been implicated in motorists' deaths.

Electric company

Tesla Motors, based in California, is the brainchild of Elon Musk, a co-founder of SpaceX, which is developing a new breed of commercial space rockets.

Electric cars like those made by Tesla aren’t just "green." They can accelerate more quickly than conventional vehicles because 100 percent of the torque is applied instantly to the wheels. The Tesla Roadster goes zero to 60 in a not-too-shabby 3.9 seconds.

Though the two-seater Roadster is the only all-electric vehicle on U.S. highways today – and there are only about one thousand of these $109,000 sports cars in the entire world – the domestic marketplace for electric cars is heating up.

Chevrolet is set to finally roll out its plug-in hybrid Volt in California this fall, and Nissan's all-electric Leaf will soon be hitting the streets as well.

A slew of federal grants and incentives from the Department of Energy reflect the Obama administration's stated goal of having one million plug-in hybrids and electric cars cruising on U.S. roads by 2015.

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