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Tesla Inks Partnership with Toyota

Electric car maker Tesla Motors has gained a serious backer as it approaches its initial public offering: the company has announced a partnership with Japanese automotive giant Toyota to develop electric vehicles and production systems. As part of the agreement, Toyota will be purchasing $50 million worth of Tesla common stock in a private placement once Tesla’s IPO is closed.

“Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility,” said Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Must, in a statement. “It is an honor and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla. We look forward to learning and benefiting from Toyota’s legendary engineering, manufacturing, and production expertise.”

In a separate deal, Tesla Motors has purchased the former NUMMI factory in Fremont, California, where it plans to begin production of its forthcoming Model S sedan and future electric vehicles. The NUMMI factory was used by Toyota to produce Corolla and Tacoma vehicles as recently as last month, and is capable of producing half a million cars a year. The factory’s location near Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters means the company can tap into the area’s considerable engineering talent. The good news is that some of the 4,500 Toyota workers who were laid off from the NUMMI plant will probably be re-hired. Tesla may create as many as 1,000 jobs at the NUMMI plant, although it will only be using a fraction of its capacity.

Production on the Model S sedan is expected to start in 2012. Unlike the high-performance, high-priced Tesla Roadster sports car, the Model S is intended to be a premium sedan with a somewhat more down-to-earth price tag—about $50,000, compared to the $100,000+ for a Roadster. The Model S is also being developed as a platform for future electric vehicles.

Toyota is the latest high-profile addition to Tesla’s list of investors; others include German car-maker Daimler and the Abu Dhabi government. Tesla’s initial public offering is scheduled for January 29, 2011, but the company has not yet published an estimated price range for its stock or proposed a trading symbol.