Panasonic, LG Chem and Samsung Invest Big in Electric Vehicle Batteries

Panasonic’s President Kazuhiro Tsuga confirmed during the recent CES 2016, that the company plans to invest up to $1.6 billion in the Tesla Gigafactory. The two companies signed an agreement on Gigafactory collabration back in July 2014.

Until this point, the general impression had been that Panasonic was cautious about pouring big chunk of money into the project. In Oct 2014, Kazuhiro Tsuga said that the company’s initial investment would be tens of billions of Japanese yen (hundreds of millions of US dollars) and there would be further installments of similar amounts. The Gigafactory was also reported to be 40% bigger than the original plan.

Gigafactory apparently is not the only move for Panasonic. In June, it laid out an investment plan worth 60 billion Japanese yen (or $514 million based on current rate) for automotive section, in this fiscal year ending March 2016.

In December of 2015, Panasonic also announced that it will build a new battery plant in Dalian, China. The investment was said to be 50 billion Japanese yen (or $428 million based on current rate). The plant is expected to start production in 2017 and be dedicated to EV batteries.

In line with the company’s increasing interest in EV battery market, Panasonic closed a battery plant in Beijing, in August 2015. The plant was running for 15 years already. Originally part of Sanyo, it became Panasonic after Sanyo was acquired in 2010. The shutdown reportedly cost 1,300 people to lose their jobs. This factory in Beijing was mainly producing batteries for old-fashioned cell phones and cameras.

Other giant battery makers are taking actions as well.

For example, LG Chem plans to invest a total of $3.5 billion in a battery plant in Nanjing, China. The construction of Phase 1 is already completed in October, 2015. It cost $500 million. After production starts, the plant is expected to supply batteries to 50 thousand all-electric cars and 180 thousand plug-in hybrids.

The Phase 1 plant is as large as 80 thousand square meters (or 0.86 million square feet). Although not even close to the size of Gigafactory, LG Chem does plan to add more capacity, a total of 4 times of the current capacity by 2020.

Moreover, LG Chem is interested in not just providing cells. For GM’s soon-to-come Chevrolet Bolt electric car (Please see our previous post on Summary on Electric Vehicles at CES 2016), LG Chem reportedly will build the battery management system, the motor and the power electronics as well.

Samsung SDI is also growing. EV battery is becoming one of the new focuses for Samsung Group.  Samsung Group sold its petrochemical and defense units in 2014 and its chemical business in 2015. On the other hand, Samsung SDI acquired Magna International’s battery pack business in 2015. A new battery plant in Xi’an, China will also go into production this year. The capacity is enough for 40 thousand electric cars. Samsung SDI is expected to invest $600 million in total in this project by 2020.

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