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Tesla looks at selling components to other carmakers, again

Tesla could start selling some components and software to other companies that build electric cars by 2010.

INDIAN WELLS, Calif.--Tesla Motors is contemplating selling the drivetrains and software components necessary to build electric cars to other companies.

The company will probably come out with an announcement on this initiative in the second quarter of this year, and parts and software from Tesla could start shipping to other carmakers by 2010 or earlier, said Tesla Chairman Elon Musk during an interview at the Clean Tech Investor Summit taking place this week in Indian Wells, near Palm Springs. Of course, any third-party deals will depend on Tesla's success in getting its own cars on the road. The first car is out, but right now the company is manufacturing only a limited number of cars.

Photos: Under the hood of the Tesla Roadster

Last year at the same conference, then-CEO Martin Eberhard announced that Tesla would start selling batteries to third-party companies. Norway's Think was the first signed customer. Tesla, however, ran into manufacturing problems and in the fall of 2007 put the battery business into deep freeze.

"Tesla got ahead of itself," he said of the battery business.

The drivetrain, or powertrain, is the collection of components--the engine and transmission--that turn the wheels.

On other notes, Musk said that the company will try to finish a style prototype of its Whitestar sedan in the second quarter. This will give the public an idea of what the car will look like. A working prototype is possible by the end of the year, he said. (The company also still needs to figure out a real name for the car.)

The first version of Whitestar will run completely on batteries, but Tesla will also come out with a range-extended version, he added. Range-extended cars have a small gas motor that charges the battery while you drive. These cars cost a little bit less and can go far further than regular all-electric cars before running out of power.

Musk also said he's a fan of biofuels, but not necessarily for cars.

"It makes more sense as a jet fuel than it does for cars," he said. To grow fuel you need a lot of crops, and cars use far more energy than humans. A person might need 3,000 calories a day; a two-ton car might consume the equivalent of 300,000 calories, he estimated.

"It is not like there are vast tracks of unused land," Musk said.

By the way, Tesla isn't his main job. He spends most of the time at SpaceX, a private rocketry company that puts satellites in orbit for customers like NASA. SpaceX pulled in $100 million in revenue last year.