Panasonic and Tesla Tighten Ties

Panasonic gets serious about its future in the automotive industry, as it expands its relationship with Tesla.

Timothy Healey
    Jun 14, 2017 8:00 AM  PT
Panasonic and Tesla Tighten Ties
author: Timothy Healey    

Panasonic is betting even bigger on the automotive space.

All sorts of tech companies are trying to get deeper and deeper into the automotive space as automotive tech continues to grow, thanks to the explosion of autonomous driving tech and alternative powertrains such as hybrids and battery-electrics.

Panasonic joins its competitors in the race to get a foothold in the industry, and it's pairing with Telsa to do so.

Intel is working with Mobileye, General Motors is working with Cruise Automation and Lyft, Fiat Chrysler is working with Google, and so on. So another pairing of this sort feels natural.

Panasonic's Existing Partnerships

Panasonic has already worked with Fiat Chrysler on a touchscreen that used facial and voice recognition – a touchscreen that was shown in one of the automakers' concept vehicles, the Portal. The Portal showcased autonomous driving tech. The Portal and its touchscreen were shown in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The electronics company also promoted Tom Gebhardt to chairman and CEO of its North American operations in February. This is significant because Gebhardt ran the company's Automotive Systems subsidiary prior to his promotion.

It's a move that shows a seriousness towards the automotive space.

"Our business has evolved … from purely a consumer business to a B2B business," Gebhardt said to Business Insider. "There's a number of reasons for that: The commoditization of consumer products [and] the unfavorability in some of the cost models led us to look for better values in in-vehicle technologies."

Gebhardt said Panasonic is going to work on digital instrumentation and interfaces for interior cabins along with vehicle entertainment systems in advance of a wider rollout of self-driving cars and trucks.

"If the scenario says the car drives itself, it's similar to sitting in an airplane seat, because you're no longer actively driving," he said. "We see that as an evolution of the space that has infinite possibilities for us."

Tesla Model 3 To Benefit From A Panasonic Screen

In addition to the Fiat Chrysler partnership, Panasonic showed off a touchscreen/head-up display that used augmented reality to replace the displays and physical controls of traditional cars at CES. Rumor had it that a version of this screen would be used in Tesla's upcoming Model 3.

Company execs confirmed that there's some sort of partnership afoot, even if it's not necessarily related to user controls. Panasonic CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga later said in an interview, "We are deeply interested in Tesla's self-driving system. We are hoping to expand our collaboration by jointly developing devices for that, such as sensors."

Panasonic is already working with Tesla to build batteries for its EVs, and plans to invest $1.6 billion in the Tesla gigafactory.

"The future is definitely electric, no question in my mind," Gebhardt said. "What is the future timeline? Is it 10 years, 15 years, 40 years? It's just a matter of what the adoption hits at the scale that makes this a slam dunk … We're pretty bullish on the fact that this is a space that will continue to grow and there's value there."