For every consumer electronics maker, the nascent electric car industry is a dream coming true. There is enough tech in electric cars—from infotainment systems to voice and facial recognition, software and parking sensors—to make an ambitious consumer electronics manufacturer cry with joy. There’s so much space to unleash your innovative drive. There is also growing competition, so it’s important to bet on the right EV/self-driving horse.
Tech companies are already unleashing their innovative drive: they are much in demand in the carmaking industry, as everyone is in a rush to join the ranks of electric car manufacturers. One of these tech companies is making what can easily be seen as a particularly smart choice: Panasonic.
The Japanese electronics manufacturer is Tesla’s partner in the battery gigafactory in Nevada, which is already churning out batteries developed jointly by the two companies that Tesla will fit into the Model 3, to start shipping this fall. Panasonic has pledged US$1.6 billion for the US$5-billion gigafactory.
Panasonic is also very much into self-driving cars, as the company’s chief executive told Reuters early this year, adding that Panasonic will be happy to take part in Tesla’s self-driving car development, contributing with sensor tech, for example. All in all, Panasonic eyes automotive business revenues of around US$18 billion (2 trillion yen) over its financial year through March 2019, to be enabled by the lively demand for car tech.
Yet Panasonic is not only putting its eggs in the battery and car tech basket. It is also partnering with Tesla on solar power. The Japanese firm invested US$250 million in the solar roof tile factory that Tesla operates in Buffalo, to help it boost production of the very cool roof tiles that neatly turn a roof into a solar panel instead of fitting external panels on it. Related: Is New York The Next Energy Tech Hotspot?
Early orders for the new tiles have exceeded expectations, with Tesla announcing last week that its tile output was sold out “well into 2018,” despite the Buffalo factory capacity ramp-up funded by Panasonic. Pilot production should begin by the end of June.
Tesla already has fully self-driving software in all of its cars, including the upcoming Model 3. From now on, it will only be refined further and further, generating data that regulators require before they consider regulating self-driving cars, and waiting for the day when self-driving cars will hit the roads.
Solar energy is one of the two strongest drivers of the renewable energy revolution, along with wind, and demand for solar is bound to rise at a steady rate. Tesla’s solar roof tiles are not just cool but they are, more importantly for demand, economical. According to the company, the roofs made of these tiles have 30 years of guaranteed power generation, which means they will pay for themselves in power savings.
Panasonic is part of all this. It’s no coincidence that the company replaced its North America CEO in April, appointing Tom Gebhardt to the job. Gebhardt was in charge of Panasonic’s automotive division for five years before. Here’s what he told Business Insider in a May interview. “If the scenario says the car drives itself, it’s similar to sitting in an airplane seat because you’re no longer actively driving. We see that as an evolution of the space that’s quite interesting going forward that has infinite possibilities for us.”
Indeed, the self-driving car industry opens up a lot of opportunities for tech makers. Tesla, whether its legacy rivals like it or not, is at the forefront of this emerging industry. It makes perfect sense for Panasonic to continue to deepen its ties with the carmaker amid a prevailing optimistic sentiment towards EVs and self-driving cars.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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