It might sound like a gimmick. But the logic behind a recent patent application looks sound. And even if the technology doesn’t work, the very existence of the patent application illustrates one thing: Telsa and its enigmatic CEO Elon Musk are masters of generating buzz.
Take the launch of Tesla’s Cybertruck. The November event in Los Angeles certainly had people talking about the pickup’s avant-garde, geometric design, towing capacity, and features such as bulletproof glass. Barron’s itself has written almost two dozen articles referencing Cybertruck since its launch.
It seems people can’t get enough of Tesla. Now there are lasers to write about. (The company also got some negative headlines, however, on Monday: A Tesla on Autopilot crashed into a police car over the weekend.)
The patent filing came to light—pardon the pun—in late November. The electric vehicle pioneer is seeking to protect technology it is developing for “pulsed laser cleaning of debris accumulated on glass articles in vehicles and photovoltaic assemblies.”
Translation: Tesla wants to zap debris off its windshields. Think of it as the most high-tech window defroster ever conceived.
It isn’t as odd as it sounds. The patent application makes some interesting points. For starters, vehicle electrification can mean solar panels on cars in the future. That’s a lot of glass surface area. And as autonomous driving technology adds more cameras and sensors to cars, its important to keep them all clean. The lasers offer a way to keep critical equipment clean without having to manually intervene—such as with an ice scrapper.
(Tesla understands solar panel technology better than most—the company owns SolarCity.)
Barron’s isn’t going to pretend to understand lasers enough to evaluate technical feasibility. All we really know is that a laser is a focused beam of light. What is clear, however, is that Tesla has a knack for generating free advertising—to the benefit of its shareholders.
The benefit isn’t small. Other car companies spend large sums on advertising.
(F), for instance, spend more than $8 billion each year on a combined basis on advertising and promotion. That works out to about 2.7% of combined sales, or about 30% of combined estimated 2019 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or Ebitda. Traditional, mainstream car companies have to spend on brand awareness.
Tesla disclosed $70 million in marketing spending in 2018. That’s only about 0.3% of sales.
Some day, Tesla might have to spend way more money on advertising, but investors don’t seem to be worried about that now. The company is riding a hot streak. Shares are up about 47% over the past three months. That’s far better than the 4.9%, 6.2% and 8.2% respective gains of the
Dow Jones Industrial Average,
and Russell 3000 Auto & Auto Parts Index over the same span.
Tesla didn’t return a request for comment about when the laser technology could be ready for production and what models it might be first implemented on.
Maybe the company plans to launch them on the Cybertruck—marrying the futuristic design with futuristic debris removal.
Write to Al Root at email@example.com