OSAKA (Reuters) - Panasonic Corp aims to extend its partnership with electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc beyond batteries and into self-driving technology, as the Japanese conglomerate continues to shift its focus to the automotive business.
The electronics maker has placed automotive applications at the center of a growth strategy that targets corporate clients at the expense of low-margin consumer goods, where low-cost Asian rivals have diminished the dominance of Japanese firms.
Panasonic is the exclusive supplier of batteries for Tesla's Model S, Model X and upcoming mass market Model 3, and plans to contribute $1.6 billion to Tesla's $5 billion battery factory.
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"We are deeply interested in Tesla's self-driving system," Chief Executive Officer Kazuhiro Tsuga said in an interview on Thursday. "We are hoping to expand our collaboration by jointly developing devices for that, such as sensors."
One candidate would be so-called organic photoconductive film CMOS image sensors currently under development at Panasonic, which enable high-speed sensing of moving objects without distortion, Tsuga said.
Panasonic aims to add such technology to an automotive business that also includes cockpit displays and navigation systems. It targets annual sales of 2 trillion yen ($17.43 billion) for that business in the year through March 2019, from 1.3 trillion yen in the year ended March 2016.
As well as automotive, Panasonic and Tesla work together in solar energy. The Japanese firm last month said it plans to invest more than 30 billion yen in a Tesla factory making photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules.
($1 = 114.7600 yen)
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki and Yoshiyasu Shida; Editing by Christopher Cushing)