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Panasonic looks to buy headlight maker ZKW for up to $885mn

Japanese manufacturer eyes new era of electronics in self-driving cars

OSAKA -- Panasonic plans to purchase European automotive lighting company ZKW in a move designed to increase the Japanese manufacturer's presence in automotive electronics, an industry undergoing rapid change amid progress in self-driving and electric vehicles.

The two companies are in the final stages of negotiations, and a basic deal could be hammered out by mid-December. The acquisition is expected to cost up to around 100 billion yen($885 million).

ZKW's main products are energy-efficient light-emitting diode headlights capable of illumination at great distances. The company, founded in 1938, has a global workforce of about 7,500 with research and production sites in areas including Europe, the U.S., China and India. It supplies leading Western automakers such as General Motors, with sales for 2016 seen at roughly 900 million euros ($960 million).

Japan's Koito Manufacturing and France's Valeo Group together hold nearly 50% of the global headlight market, with ZKW taking about 5%. Headlight technology is changing amid the development of self-driving vehicles, allowing adjustments of the beams' brightness and direction to enhance safety. Panasonic has a wealth of know-how in sensors that it could combine with ZKW's strength in lighting to develop new technology for image recognition, letting the electronics manufacturer take on the industry's two giants.

Panasonic's automotive division deals mainly in car navigation systems and vehicle batteries. The company is proceeding with plans to invest around 500 billion yen ($4.41 billion) to mass-produce batteries for Tesla Motors. By purchasing companies covering a broad array of key products, Panasonic seeks to raise automotive-related sales to 2 trillion yen in fiscal 2018.

Panasonic last year took a 49% stake in Spain's Ficosa International, a company that makes items such as automotive mirrors. The partners have begun jointly developing electronic mirrors for vehicles.

The automotive industry is changing as products from different industries are being adopted into the traditional mix. Information technology and electronics companies are becoming the lead players in this upheaval. South Korea's Samsung Electronics agreed last month to buy Harman International in the U.S. for $8 billion. Germany's Siemens has formed a joint venture with Valeo that develops powertrains for electric vehicles. Google, meanwhile, is buying robotics companies in its effort to develop self-driving cars.

(Nikkei)

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