This fall, hundreds of Panasonic Corp. employees will be dispatched to the gigafactory of Tesla Motors in Nevada to prepare to produce lithium ion batteries for electric cars starting in 2016. The deal between Panasonic and Tesla is a key aspect of massive restructuring in the past few years to cut losses caused by cheaper Asian counterparts.
Panasonic has let go of non-profitable products such as plasma TVs and smartphones. Instead, it has turned its focus on energy-saving home systems. This year alone, it has invested almost $500 million towards its auto-related segment. At a briefing held recently, Yoshio Ito, head of Panasonic's automotive and industrial systems division, said that “hundreds” of workers will be needed initially.
Ito said that for its automotive business, Panasonic intends to invest about 60 billion yen ($478 million) in the current fiscal year through March. The gigafactory is included in this estimate. Tesla predicts that the cost of this plant will go up to about $5 billion, with Panasonic to provide about 30 to 40% of the investment in a plant that is needed in Tesla’s plan to boost sales.
Ito also said that a portion of the 60 billion yen will be spent for its joint development project with Spain-based auto parts maker Ficosa International SA, which specializes in advanced driver assistance systems that feature blind spot detection and assisted parking.
Last September, Panasonic said that it will buy an almost 50% stake in Ficosa, its largest strategic investment in the automotive field. In the next 10 years, self-driving cars are predicted to lead to the pouring in of big investments in auto and technology industries.
Incidentally, a key step to achieving autonomy in cars is advanced driver assistance systems technology. Ito was asked about making additional acquisitions. He replied that Panasonic is considering proposals to expand partnership deals with outer producers.
Panasonic competes with Japan's Denso Corp. as well as Germany's Continental AG and Robert Bosch GmbH.
Ito also said that while Panasonic’s forte is sensing and image processing, it may team up with other companies for other technologies, such as those that make drivers alert or those that adjust their course when problems are identified.
He added that Panasonic may collaborate in other areas where it doesn’t have expertise like technologies that set off automatic controls or those that give data to the driver.