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Toyota courts Tesla’s battery partner Panasonic ahead of electric car push

Panasonic has risen to the top position as a battery cell supplier for the auto industry through its partnership with Tesla, which has become the largest battery consumer in the world.

Now Toyota is courting the company for a battery partnership as the major Japanese automaker is playing catch up in the EV space.

The two Japanese companies announced today a deal to “begin studying the feasibility of a joint automotive prismatic battery business.”

They described the agreement in a press release today:

“This agreement between the two companies aims to help find solutions to pressing societal issues such as global warming, air pollution, the depletion of natural resources and energy security. Furthermore, this agreement is intended to address growing demand and expectations for electrified vehicles. In order to realize these objectives, Toyota and Panasonic target further advancements in automotive batteries, which are crucial technologies in electrified vehicles.”

Toyota has been entrenched in the development of hydrogen fuel cell powertrains and never focused on battery-electric vehicles.

Until recently, their biggest effort in the space was a partnership and investment in Tesla that led to the California-based automaker developing the all-electric powertrain for the Toyota Rav4 EV, which has since been discontinued as the Japanese automaker sold all its Tesla shares.

Now, Toyota plans to build its first all-electric vehicle from the ground up and it is expected to come to market in 2020 – making the company late to market compared to the rest of the industry.

Electrek’s Take

This is an important news because we can tell which automaker is most serious about the mass production of electric vehicles by looking at which ones are seriously working to secure battery supply.

Tesla was an early player in this game with its partnership with Panasonic and later its Gigafactory plan. Since then, other companies, like Daimler and Volkswagen have also launched important efforts to secure strong battery supply chains.

Now it looks like Toyota is going to add itself to the list.

Interestingly, they are exploring a partnership for “prismatic” battery cells. Panasonic’s main automotive battery products have been cylindrical cells since Tesla pioneered the use of those cells in electric vehicles. We have since seen several startups launching EVs with the same concept of using thousands of smaller cylindrical cells in battery packs, but established automakers have mostly been reluctant to use the technology and instead focus on fewer but bigger prismatic cells.

It’s why Panasonic’s production has been focused on cylindrical cells, but it also recently announced expansions of its production capacity across all its plants, including those that produce prismatic cells.

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