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BMW Smacks Down Elon Musk’s Tesla Collaboration Hype

BMW insiders: Tesla CEO Elon Musk “is using us for PR purposes.”

It has been tough for Tesla recently. It normally excels like few other companies in pumping up its stock while losing money hand over fist and building so few cars that they’re not even a rounding error in the global production of 72 million passenger vehicles this year.

The biggest hits came when Daimler – its lineup includes Mercedes-Benz cars, all kinds of commercial vehicles, and as it says, the industry’s “biggest portfolio of electric vehicles” – announced in October that it had sold its entire 4% stake in Tesla for a pre-tax profit of $780 million. A couple of days later, Toyota disclosed that it too had sold part of its 2.4% state in Tesla. But why the heck did they turn a supposedly strategic, long-term investment, and one of the hottest stocks, into cash? What do they know that we don’t? [Read… Daimler Closes Tesla Hedge, Dumps Shares, Grabs Cash, Runs].

So a month after this debacle, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was back at it, trying to repair the damage these two exits had done. In an interview published last Sunday in the German magazine Spiegel (behind paywall), he said that Tesla was discussing with BMW a cooperation on battery technology – he wants to build a battery factory in Germany – charging stations, and BMW’s carbon-fiber production technology, which was “relatively cost efficient,” and “could be interesting” for the suppliers of Tesla’s car bodies, he said. And the fact that Daimler and Toyota had dumped their Tesla shares? Musk brushed it off: they just wanted to take profits, he said.

But Tesla began backpedalling immediately: “The conversation between Elon Musk and BMW has been a casual conversation, and not about a formal cooperation,” spokeswoman Kathrin Schira told Reuters afterwards.

A BMW spokesman could not be reached for comment at the time, so Musk’s words became part of the hype package in the US.

There was even talk of an “alliance”: “This round of news is interesting when you consider that Elon Musk previously said that there was room to improve on the [BMW] i3. He was quoted saying he did hope they improve it, so maybe Musk is the one who can.”

Ha, now the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche learned from “well-informed BMW sources” that Musk’s utterances had caused a bout of astonishment at BMW. There were no negotiations on concrete cooperation with Tesla, they said. And BMW told theWirtschaftsWoche directly that “BMW Group has no interest in acquiring shares of Tesla.”

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