is a $70 billion giant with strongly rising profitability and a place in the first division of battery
manufacturers greatly boosted by its acquisition of Sanyo. It has shipped over 180 billion batteries
since 1931. In Lithium-ion batteries, Panasonic sits alongside leader LGChem
of Korea, which may be installing the most capacity for them at 50GWh in 2020. Other leaders are $13 billion BYD
of China installing similar capacity to the Tesla
Gigafactory by 2020, Samsung SDI
of Korea and AESC of Japan. BYD recently sold nearly $2 billion of new equity to help it make more batteries and design new cars.
, wanting a lot of large lithium-ion batteries
for its own use, needed to form a partnership with one of these large players with their deep knowledge, vast number of patents and large production facilities. There is no other way a newcomer can rapidly get up to speed and this is compounded by the fact that the cell formulations keep changing: vital in achieving greater range and lower cost for the vehicles. Pure electric car manufacturers BYD
and Tesla have recently announced doubling in range for their mainstream cars but not by huge battery
improvements, simply by almost doubling the amount of battery, effectively pinning a huge amount of investors' money to each vehicle. Tesla did it in the most extreme way with the planned Tesla 3 so it attracted nearly 400,000 reservations. Toyota
told analysts IDTechEx that it could not carry such losses if it acted similarly. Investors love BYD and Tesla so they can sell at huge losses for a while but they must urgently get battery price to halve or it all ends in tears.
to set up production of lithium-ion cells in its Gigafactory, partly because it will hugely invest. Panasonic retains the intellectual property, hired its own staff, installs its own processes and effectively sells the cells to Tesla. When Executive VP of Panasonic Yoshihiko Yamada was sceptically assessing Tesla's proposal in 2013-4, many companies were installing extra production capacity for lithium-ion batteries
but failing to get the orders to fill them but Yamada took a leap of faith. He risks being seen as so close to Tesla that his competitors may cease to buy from him just as BYD
has some difficulty in selling batteries to its car, bus and stationary power competitors. On its part, Tesla is hoping that Panasonic will always give it the best new chemistry on time.
Initially, Panasonic is gambling $1.6 billion of the $5 billion plus Gigafactory cost. However, Panasonic has just announced that it is considering to sell corporate bonds and raise $3.91 billion. Senior Managing Director at Panasonic Corporation
said during the earnings call, "In the near term, strategic investment (from the money raised) would be mostly in Tesla's Gigafactory. There is a need to speed up investment."
The two companies have worked closely for years. Tesla buys cylindrical cells from Panasonic in Japan. Elon Musk recently said that he sees scope to erect gigafactories in Europe, China and maybe India and clearly Panasonic would like to be involved in all of that. Tesla is bringing forward its production target to 35 GWh of capacity in 2018. That is around the level of total global production of lithium-ion batteries in 2014. Yoshio Ito, Panasonic's head of automotive and industrial systems (AIS) division, said, "We will do our best to move up the schedule if requested."
needs to progress from making its battery
packs with tiny cylindrical cells that do not compactly pack together and have enormous numbers of connections to go wrong. Competitors use much bigger cells. It is therefore asking Panasonic
to manufacture a larger 20700 cell format - compared to the current 18650 so the battery cells that will be produced at the factory later this year - taller (70mm) and wider (20mm) than the current cells used. Chemistry will be improved too.
is far from being wholly dependent on Tesla
for its sales of lithium-ion batteries
. Knowing that the biggest value market for them is currently not cars but buses, over 75% of which are made in the protected Chinese market for buses, it is trying to manufacture there. Foreign companies wanting to manufacture products in China are required to work with a local partner, inevitably leaking intellectual property. Samsung
set up partnerships in China to make their batteries that are superior to ones made in China in storing more electricity in a given space but the Chinese government said this design will not be supported by government subsidies to the vehicle makers using it until "safety" is confirmed. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology MIIT effectively suspended EV buses from using a type of battery
that use a combination of nickel, cobalt, and manganese (NCM) in the cathode. All the leading foreign suppliers make NCM batteries and they had built up over 10% market share in China. Last year XAAR
of the USA even announced a billion dollar order for such batteries from just one Chinese bus maker and 10 percent of EV buses produced in China used NCM batteries in 2015. See the IDTechEx report, "Electric Buses 2016-2026". IDTechEx and other analysts sees the trade barrier being to help Chinese competitors catch up. Chinese manufacturers interviewed by IDTechEx confirmed this.
Worse followed. In June, the Chinese government decided to leave LG Chem
and Samsung off a list of licensed suppliers. That may disqualify them from subsidies despite producing the power units in China. MIIT rejected applications by the two battery makers - who together control one-third of the global EV battery market -saying they failed to make the cut to be included in a list of suppliers who met the country's battery standards for electric-vehicles enacted in May 2015, without giving a reason. The ministry has given the green light to 57 battery makers by June 20, but no foreign companies have made it to this list.
KwanHyeung Kim, Samsung EV marketing director, China, says he is not sure why the company's application was rejected. LG Chem said it has not received an explanation. Both will resubmit later. It left them and their Chinese partners in the lurch. LG Chem's supplies automakers SAIC and Chery. SAIC is now considering replacing the LG Chem battery in a new hybrid model. 10 Chinese automakers using batteries from Samsung are waiting to see whether the battery license would become a compulsory prerequisite to qualify for subsidies typically as half the vehicle's price. Anhui stopped producing an electric SUV using Samsung batteries due to subsidy concerns. Panasonic has a joint venture in China to make other things but it will have got the message on batteries. Neither Tesla nor its supplier Panasonic can be sure of major success in China.
Over the last five years, Panasonic
has been strongly recovering from overdependence on television and large displays. If Tesla
succeeds and keeps Panasonic as partner it may lead the battery
maker to be the largest in Lithium-ion batteries
by a comfortable margin in 5-10 years but if they fail they have Sony
as a warning. That company failed to invest in the best chemistry and production and failed to compete in the large lithium-ion batteries that form most of the market projected by IDTechEx and other analysts. Recently, Sony sold its total lithium-ion activity to Murata
. It is out of the business. Panasonic, Samsung
and Murata present at the 3500+ delegate IDTechEx Show!
in Santa Clara, Silicon Valley November 16-17.
Top image: Tesla