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Ford Isn't the Only Rival That Bought a Tesla Model X

By Evan Niu, CFA - Apr 20, 2016 at 8:08PM

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Buying a competitor's product is just par for the course.

Model X. Image source: Tesla.

This morning, Bloomberg reported that Ford Motor (F -1.92%) recently went and picked itself up a shiny new Tesla (TSLA -0.74%) Model X. We're talking about a fully loaded Founders Edition, of which less than 100 units were produced before Tesla started making Signature models.

The all-electric SUV has been slow to ramp up, so Ford decided to buy its Model X on the secondary market for a hefty $55,000 premium. All told, the Blue Oval spent $200,000 to acquire its X. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the $4.5 billion that Ford is committing to its electrification program, which should presumably cover competitive research expenses like acquiring a Model X.

Ford isn't the only one.

Everybody's doing it
Part of Volkswagen's (VWAGY -1.58%) crisis response strategy is to focus its message on EVs going forward. That includes at its luxury brand Audi. A few months ago, a Model X was spotted near Audi's Ingolstadt headquarters with a local license plate. This was very early on in Model X production, before European deliveries had officially started.

Audi indeed purchased an early Model X, but imported it from the U.S. Tesla uses slightly different Supercharger ports in the U.S. and Europe, so Audi engineers have been having trouble using local Superchargers.

Still, none of this should come as a surprise, either. Audi has already announced a Model X rival, the electric e-tron quattro concept that's set for 2018 production. Plus, Audi has already admitted that Tesla nailed it strategically.

Ford's second Tesla
As fellow Fool John Rosevear points out, this is common practice in the auto industry. Automakers will often go out and buy a competitor's product in order to reverse engineer it and learn its deepest, darkest technical secrets. It's a fairly routine competitive practice in general, including in consumer electronics.

Way back in 2014, Ford CEO Mark Fields (who had just been promoted to CEO) confirmed that the company had acquired a Tesla Model S in order to reverse engineer it. "We have driven the Model S, torn it down, put it back together, and driven it again," Fields said on an earnings conference call, "We're very familiar with that product."

You can similarly expect that Ford is also tearing its shiny new Model X asunder, only to reassemble it. While Tesla famously open-sourced its patents in 2014, high-level methods on how to do something are quite different than detailed implementations. The real question is how quickly Ford will act with this newfound knowledge.

Mixed messages
As mentioned above, Ford tore down a Model S two years ago, and there should be little doubt that Ford has the technical know-how to design, develop, and manufacture a compelling EV with sufficient range and acceleration (let's not talk about price quite yet).

And yet, the company still hasn't done so. Perhaps more important, Ford isn't intending on doing one quite yet, recently saying that a Ford EV with 200 miles of range isn't in the wings and it's still mostly sticking to a compliance car strategy for the time being. Still, we're undoubtedly getting closer and closer to the day that Ford is willing to take the plunge. The company has committed to launching 13 new EVs to its portfolio by 2020, which is only a few years away.

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