With Tesla’s opening of their automotive patents last year, the auto industry was turned upside down, with the effects increasingly being felt across the industry. Tesla opening their patents was seen by some in the automotive industry as inexplicable: Why would anyone give open access to people wanting to know how their cars were made? Wouldn’t this encourage theft of Tesla’s intellectual property?
Elon Musk seemed to feel the same way himself until confronted with the reality: electric cars only make a small percentage of the total automotive market when it comes to Tesla’s competitors, who treat EVs as an afterthought and continue to overwhelmingly place most of their focus on gas-powered vehicles. In short, the automotive industry was doubling down on gas. So opening the doors of innovation to others seemed like a smart business move.
And Tesla was none too soon in making that decision. Late in 2013, a company called OSVehicle was founded in 2015 in Hong Kong with an international focus. Their goal? Complete, do-it-yourself, Open Source cars that cost less than $10,000 and take just an hour to make. Now with a community numbering 10,000 of designers, programmers and fans, OSVehicle has released a variety of kits, cars and plans. Combined with the luxury and sport expertise Tesla brings to the table, making working, street-legal open source electric vehicles is now easier than ever before.
And other car manufacturers are paying attention even where some are placing all their bets on gas powered vehicles. As innovation continues to drive the price of electric vehicles down while increasing their accessibility, it encourages both existing and new ventures to invest in electric vehicles. Meanwhile, OSVehicle’s designs are inspiring new automotive models throughout Europe, with new vehicles based on the designs already being produced.
According to Andrew Anagnost, Senior Vice President of Industry Strategy and Marketing at Autodesk, all of this leads to the reality of open-source vehicles acting as agents of disruption in an industry where the players have largely been cemented for almost a century. With the advent of technologies like 3D printing slowly taking the place of assembly-line production and open networks of information giving access to ideas and designs that were once protected as industry trade secrets, the balance of power is shifting from the incumbents to the disruptors.
The real winners in this are consumers, who can leverage the power of information to build, maintain, and modify accessible and working vehicles as they see fit. Opening up the designs of tomorrow’s vehicles may lead to a new class of auto mechanic in an industry that has already seen huge results of change in vehicle structure and design. This may shift balances of power there too, as experts with access to tools could build vehicles from scratch more easily than ever.
Yet with all the change that is happening with open source vehicles today, it may be years before we see the long-term effects on the market. As it stands, closed-source, gas powered vehicles are the norm, and even if open-source vehicles continue to grow in use, there will be two paradigms of vehicle design for the forseeable future. Much like the early days of computers and their operating systems, the permanent effect on the market overall is largely yet to be seen.
But the reality of open source vehicles has opened a window into the possible future of the automobile industry, and it looks undeniably bright.