Panasonic hookup could jolt Japan's electric-car sector

Kelley Robertson
December 15, 2017

Suzuki Motor Corp's president said the Japanese automaker will not join efforts by Toyota Motor Corp and Panasonic Corp to develop batteries for electric vehicles, but a supply deal could be possible.

The joint announcement on Wednesday builds on an existing agreement under which Panasonic - a global market leader for automotive lithium-ion batteries - makes batteries for Toyota's gasoline-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Toyota has stepped up electric auto development amid a boom this year after initially betting on hydrogen to power its zero-emission vehicles. These will include solid-electrolyte batteries, a next-generation technology that is safer than traditional liquid-electrolyte cells that Panasonic now makes for US electric-car maker Tesla.

"By 2030, we aim to have 50 percent or more of our total vehicle sales coming from electric-powered vehicles, such as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, EV and FCV (fuel-cell vehicle)", announced President Akio Toyoda in a rare public appearance.

Both Toyota and Panasonic are now inviting other companies to help form new battery standards as well. The venture reflects a trend of automakers and components makers partnering to develop the next-generation cars, to reduce research, development and manufacturing costs.

"The pair plan to expand development of prismatic - flat, pouch-shaped - batteries with higher energy density".

He added that the safety of EV batteries remained an "pressing issue". Panasonic already makes prismatic batteries for Toyota, whereas for Tesla, it makes cylindrical batteries of a type similar to those used in laptops.

"Japan does not have any resources and in order to survive in the era of a major change we need to develop competitive batteries so that we can provide a stable supply of batteries", he told a joint news conference.

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