Panasonic Riding Tesla Wave to Boost Battery Storage Sales in Europe

Panasonic Corp., the supplier of lithium-ion cells that plans to help Tesla Motors Inc. build a battery factory, said cooperation with the U.S. electric-car maker will probably boost demand from European automakers.

“The development with Tesla is catching a lot of attention in Europe,” Laurent Abadie, who heads the Japanese manufacturer’s operations in Europe, said in an interview yesterday. “It could bring some acceleration to this industry. Especially the German carmakers are trying to catch up.”

As a result, Panasonic will be able to expand its leadership in car batteries, which it already supplies to companies including Volkswagen AG, Abadie said. He declined to provide a specific forecast.

Some of Europe’s automakers are reconsidering battery options. Daimler AG said in May it’s working on the “future positioning” of its German Li-Tec battery plant after Manager Magazin reported it plans to shutter the site and turn to LG Electronics Inc. to supply calls for an electric version of its Smart car.

Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. said they are committed to their electric vehicle program and denied a report they may cut battery production and buy cells from LG Chem Ltd.

Tesla, run by Elon Musk and based in Palo Alto, California, won tax breaks worth as much as $1.3 billion from Nevada in the final steps to bring the world’s largest lithium-ion factory to the state. The plant, in which Panasonic is participating, will be able to supply 500,000 cars.

Optical Lenses

Panasonic is also betting on increasing demand for optical lenses and sensors that allow cars to react to traffic situations without driver input. The market for such components is growing 10-fold every two years, Abadie said.

The technology, adapted from consumer cameras such as Panasonic’s Lumix series, will probably also find buyers in the airline industry, the executive said. Panasonic is in talks with U.S. airlines to supply face-recognition tools that help carriers identify and serve frequent travelers and other high- value customers, he said.

Products from those areas are becoming more important for the Osaka-based company as traditional stalwarts falter. Panasonic has suspended plasma panel production, trimmed smartphone and circuit board operations, and sold a stake in semiconductor factories to focus on faster-growing businesses.

Panasonic shares declined 0.8 percent in Tokyo trading today, trimming their gain this year to 6.9 percent. The company’s market value is 3.21 trillion yen ($29.9 billion).

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

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