Analyzing the patent applications and grants of a few of the world’s prominent luxury car makers including Tesla, Audi and Daimler Benz gives us forward-looking insight into their future product roadmap and product innovation strategies.
Here’s some of what we learn from the patent apps & granted patent applications of Audi, Daimler and Tesla after applying a statistical natural language model to reveal key themes and topics that emerge from their patents.
A quick look at the various topics shows a clear focus by Tesla on energy with many patents related to energy and energy storage (via battery packs). In fact, several of Tesla’s patents mentioning battery pack indicate that the “high energy battery pack that does not require installation of the battery pack into an operational electric vehicle” perhaps portending the PowerWall – Tesla’s home battery. As we’ve seen before, a company’s patent portfolio provides an early view into their product roadmap, and in this case, Tesla’s significant focus on battery technology highlights their product focus.
By way of comparison, Audi is less focused on energy related IP referencing hybrid vehicles and electric motors in its patents but at a much lesser rate than Tesla.
Daimler is also less focused on energy storage and electric vehicles based on its patents. The term that jumped out among Daimler’s patents was “catadioptric camera” which the patent reveals is a camera that is used to monitor the space at the back and front of the vehicle.
More generally, the eclectic mix of Audi/Daimler patents highlight that incumbent automakers have a foot in two worlds. Some R&D efforts are aimed at optimizing traditional ICEs (internal combustion engines) and emissions – catalytic reduction, cam element, lightweight valve. And obviously other patents around hybrid solutions, and bets on alternative (non-electric) powertrains like hydrogen (“fuel cell”) highlight the other areas they need to focus on.
This contrasts with Tesla which is (obviously) full-on electric.
To some degree, this also highlights a bind these incumbents face in spreading R&D between traditional gasoline cash cows / competencies, finding stopgap solutions with hybrid, and figuring out where to commit resources for the future. This is frequently the challenge incumbents face responding to disruptive changes.
Of course, it is worth noting (as the searches below will illustrate), the magnitude of Audi and Daimler’s patent portfolios are materially larger than Tesla’s. So while they’re spreading their bets across multiple technologies, the R&D efforts of both Audi and Daimler are materially larger than that of Tesla as measured by the number of patents.
To view the patents of Audi, Daimler and Tesla, visit their profile on CB Insights or you can run the searches below:
Coupled with CB Insights’ data on investments and acquisitions, you now have a very complete view of their strategy and innovation areas of focus.