NEWARK, NJ – Panasonic invests $150 million to expand lithium-ion battery production capacity in three Japanese plants in a bid to become a bigger player in the burgeoning electric-vehicle market.
The electronics giant recently passed the 100 million Li-ion-cell delivery mark to. Panasonic also supplies Li-ion cells to for the Fusion EV and has a joint venture with to supply nickel-metal-hydride batteries for the Prius and other hybrid vehicles.
Panasonic is attempting to shed its financial problems of recent years and expand sales in growing industries such as power for EVs and in-vehicle cameras and infotainment, including rear-seat entertainment systems and head units. The company also aims to be a significant player in vehicle-to-vehicle communications as that market develops.
At last January’s Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic announced a joint venture withfor developing new information systems specifically designed for cars.
One of Panasonic’s Li-ion-cell plants is the Green Energy Park operation in Kasai, Japan. The facility in Western Japan is a showcase for solar-power generation; its solar panels produce enough electricity to power 300 households.
Panasonic is rebuilding an idle production line at its Suminoe plant, where it expects to resume Li-ion battery production in January. The company is adding a new line and rebuilding an idle line in preparation for the reopening of its Kaizuka factory, which it closed in March.
Most of the production is earmarked for, whose Tesla Model S EV contains 7,500 individual Li-ion cells.
The JV also makes Li-ion batteries for aglobal demonstration fleet of 500 plug-in hybrids.
Joe Taylor, president-Panasonic North America, says 20% of his company's worldwide revenues come from the auto industry. About 30% of North American revenue comes from sales to automotive OEMs.
Panasonic's global sales in its last fiscal year totaled ¥730 billion ($7.3 billion). Surprisingly, the company, which is known for its consumer-electronics business, derives 80% of its revenue from business-to-business commerce, Taylor says.
The supplier recently acquired Aupeo!, an audio-streaming service that it describes as “Pandora on steroids.” The iPhone-based system will allow drivers to integrate the Siri voice-recognition app into their vehicle voice commands.
Aupeo! has licenses to stream content from 40 countries and is available on cell phones, electronic tablets and other devices. By contrast, Pandora only streams content from U.S. radio stations.
“Aupeo! is a global platform,” a Panasonic spokesman says.
The streaming service will be incorporated into the Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV scheduled to debut next summer. It also will be included in the Mercedes-Benz Drive Kit Plus, an optional accessory on the Mercedes CLA that debuts this fall.
Additionally, Panasonic collaborates with Fender to supply premium audio systems to somemodels. The Fender system is available on current Beetle, Jetta and Passat models. “We are expanding that to include the Tiguan for the 2014 model year,” says Scott Vazin, a VW spokesman.
Panasonic believes it can double its automotive business, which includes navigation systems, sensors and audio equipment with the development of connected car technology in the future.