Panasonic is planning a big increase in lithium-ion battery capacity in 2014 to cope with increased demand for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The company will add capacity at three sites in Japan. Firstly, Panasonic will add a fourth line at its Kasai plant in Hyogo prefecture, which makes prismatic lithium-ion batteries for Toyota, Ford and Audi.
Secondly, it will add a line at its Suminoe plant in Osaka, which makes cylindrical lithium-ion batteries for Tesla Motors and personal computers.
Thirdly, Panasonic will begin cylindrical cell production for cars at its Kaizuka plant, also in Osaka.
The ramp-up comes amid complaints from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that bottlenecks in battery supply are limiting sales of the Model S. Panasonic has been the sole battery supplier for the Model S, but Tesla is in talks with Samsung SDI of South Korea.
Panasonic and Tesla Motors have reached an agreement in which Panasonic will supply nearly 2bn cells until 2017, up from around 200m shipped since 2011. The cells will be used to power the Model S as well as Model X, a performance utility vehicle that is scheduled to go into production by the end of 2014.
Panasonic says its expansion aims would offset shrinking business in traditional batteries for cell phones and computers, which is being squeezed by low-cost rivals in China.
Panasonic officials declined to detail how much capacity it will add. Its global capacity for automotive prismatic lithium-ion batteries has surged from just 100 000 cells a month in 2010 to 2m cells a month today. This would be sufficient for approximately 28 000 vehicles per month at an average of 70 cells per vehicle.
Panasonic makes the box-shaped prismatic batteries for the Audi Q5, Toyota Prius V, Ford Fusion and C-Max hybrids, as well as for the plug-in variants of the Prius hatchback and the Ford Fusion and C-Max. It also supplies the Toyota eQ electric minicar.