Panasonic wants to be sole battery cell maker at Tesla project -exec

OSAKA, Japan Fri May 23, 2014 3:45am EDT

OSAKA, Japan May 23 (Reuters) - Panasonic Corp wants to be the exclusive producer of lithium-ion battery cells at U.S. electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc's planned multibillion-dollar battery factory, a senior executive of the Japanese company said on Friday.

Yoshio Ito, senior managing executive officer and president of the Japanese firm's automotive and industrial division, said that Panasonic had no timeframe for deciding on investing in the project, but that any expenditure in the current business year to next March would be small.

Tesla is planning to build a factory in the United States producing lithium-ion batteries from 2017 that it estimates will cost $4 billion to $5 billion. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk told analysts early this month that his company expected Panasonic to be the sole producer of cells at the factory, although other partners may be involved in supplying raw materials.

Panasonic, the prime supplier of lithium-ion batteries to the U.S. firm, signed a contract last October to increase its supply to nearly 2 billion battery cells in the four years to 2017. (Reporting by Reiji Murai; Writing by Sophie Knight; Editing by Edmund Klamann)