OSAKA -- Panasonic will make automotive lithium-ion batteries at an underutilized LCD panel plant in Japan starting as early as 2019, the latest in its efforts to lift output of auto batteries amid market growth.
The company will invest an estimated tens of billions of yen (10 billion yen equals $89 million) to install new equipment at a plant in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. The plan is to make rectangular lithium-ion batteries for use in plug-in hybrids and other types of vehicles. This will be Panasonic's sixth auto-battery production site in Japan.
The Himeji plant began mass-producing liquid crystal display panels for flat televisions in 2010 but stopped making TV-use panels last year. The facility now produces medical and automotive panels but large unused space has remained, hence the latest investment. The factory will continue to make panels.
Panasonic is the world's largest producer of lithium-ion batteries for passenger vehicles. The batteries are used in various types of vehicles such as electric cars and hybrids.
The company is increasing production both within Japan and abroad, in response to growing demand. A U.S. battery factory Panasonic jointly operates with Tesla in Nevada began production in June. Panasonic's Chinese auto battery plant in Dalian opened in April.
The global market for batteries used in hybrids and plug-in hybrids is expected to roughly triple from 2016 levels to a little over 1 trillion yen in 2020, according to research company Fuji Keizai.