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Panasonic Hesitant to Commit to Tesla Battery Factory

Panasonic Hesitant to Commit to Tesla Battery Factory

Panasonic Corp., Tesla Motors Inc.’s primary supplier of lithium-ion cells for its electric Model S sedans, hasn’t committed to investing in the massive U.S. battery plant proposed by Tesla’s Elon Musk.

Joining Tesla’s “Gigafactory” battery project would raise investment risks, Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga, told reporters today at a briefing in Tokyo. Tesla, which announced plans for the facility in February, said it’s reviewing potential sites in four southwestern U.S. states. The plant may require as much as $5 billion to build and employ about 6,500 people by 2020, the Palo Alto, California-based company said.

Musk, who is also Tesla’s co-founder and biggest investor, has said Panasonic may be involved in the factory. However, the Osaka, Japan-based company’s participation is “not 100 percent confirmed,” he told Bloomberg Television last month.

“Having Panasonic as a joint venture partner would facilitate strategic access to Panasonic’s supply chain, and reduce risks,” Craig Irwin, a New York-based analyst for Wedbush Securities Inc., wrote in a note today.

Irwin, who has an outperform rating on the stock, trimmed his target price for Tesla’s shares to $275 from $295.

Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, the four states Tesla identified as possible factory locations, have started lobbying efforts to win the plant. Tesla has raised about $2 billion in a convertible bond sale to help fund the plant and for product development.

Critical Batteries

Musk, 42, has said the plant is critical to helping Tesla drive down battery costs and to expand lithium-ion cell supplies to allow the carmaker to sell hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles annually. Tesla also wants to make batteries for home storage of electricity generated by solar panels, allowing customers to reduce use of power from utilities.

Tesla relies on Panasonic for the battery materials, said Menahem Anderman, president of Total Battery Consulting Inc., in Oregon House, California. If Panasonic isn’t involved, that will make the factory much more of a challenge, he said.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Caution tape via Shutterstock

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