Panasonic is ditching many of its consumer products to re-angle itself as a B2B supplier in the EV world and the creator of the perfect digital cockpit.
The company has publicly teamed up with Tesla to create the Gigafactory in Nevada. The tech giant is ploughing at least $1.6 billion into the venture and Tom Gebhardt, the recently appointed chairman and CEO of Panasonic North America, revealed to Business Insider that he is absolutely convinced this is the future for the company.
Consumer electronics is a tough market
Profit margins are falling in the consumer electronics business and Panasonic particularly ran into trouble with plasma televisions that simply weren’t a profit center. The company altered its philosophy in 2012 when Kazuhiro Tsuga took over the role of president and began to make some serious changes.
Gebhardt’s appointment at the head of the North American arm in April was also significant, as he spent five years in charge of the company’s automotive program. Panasonic has been involved with car audio for a while, as it made OEM and aftermarket stereo systems in 2008.
Could Panasonic make the ultimate infotainment?
Now, though, the company is looking to power the cars of the future and take advantage of the self-driving software to create a truly immersive interior that takes inspiration from a First Class plane seat.
“Our business has evolved over a period of time, especially in the recent past of going from purely a consumer business to a B2B business,” Gebhardt told Business Insider. “There’s a number of reasons for that: The commoditization of consumer products and the unfavorability in some of the cost models led us to look for better values in-vehicle technologies.
“If the scenario says the car drives itself, it’s similar to sitting in an airplane seat because you’re no longer actively driving. We see that as an evolution of the space that’s quite interesting going forward that has infinite possibilities for us.”
Portal was a gateway car
Panasonic worked on the Portal concept car with Fiat Chrysler, which went on show at CES this year and featured an OLED touchscreen, as well as face and voice recognition.
This is chickenfeed to what will come, though, and we recently suggested that it would be a tech company, rather than a traditional manufacturer, that produces the next truly groundbreaking car.
Will Panasonic take on Apple and Google?
Infotainment systems will be the new USP for cars before too long and Panasonic will work with the manufacturers to take on the likes of Google, Apple and newcomers like Faraday Future.
“The future is definitely electric, no question in my mind, it’s more like: ‘What is the future timeline?’ Is it 10 years, 15 years, 40 years?” Gebhardt said. “We don’t see an alternative more interesting that, it’s just a matter of what the adoption hits at the scale that makes this a slam dunk.”
Gebhart recognized that EV adoption simply hasn’t kept pace with expectation and that President Trump’s pledge to roll back legislation regarding emissions is an issue.
Could China force the EV market?
We recently suggested that Europe would drive the real EV revolution. He argued, though, that strong legislation in China, one of the world’s biggest markets, could change the whole complexion of the global EV industry.
China “being the largest car market in the world has a big influence on what will happen,” Gebhardt said. “If they adopt in a big way, that changes the balance of where electric is today versus where it will be going.”
Europe is also taking a strong stance, so America could simply be forced to go with the flow. If Panasonic has the means to power the car and provide the in-car office or movie theaters that we think are coming, then it could be one of the big winners in the EV revolution.