The two Japanese firms have announced an agreement to conduct a feasibility study on prismatic battery technology for automotive use
While Tesla routinely makes headlines for its ingenuity in battery pack assembly and EV manufacture, lesser mention is sometimes given to the Panasonic cells that power them. In the case of the Model 3, the cells used are a more newer cylindrical “2170” (21mm by 70mm) design, rather than the 18650 which have powered the Model S and X.
Yet Panasonic may now be looking to its next leap. Today it announced a tie-up with Toyota to begin studying the feasibility of a jointly-owned automotive prismatic battery business.
According to a statement: “Both companies will consider details of the collaboration with the aim of achieving the best automotive prismatic battery in the industry and, ultimately, contributing to the popularization of Toyota’s and other automakers’ electrified vehicles.”
A recording of the press conference is available below.
Prismatic or “pouch” cells, are thinner and are often laid out in layers to form a lighter and more energy-dense battery pack, ideal for EV applications.
For Toyota, leveraging its relationship with Panasonic seems like a no-brainer. Having worked together since 1953, Panasonic provided batteries for the original Toyota Prius, and given its battery production credentials at the Gigafactory, seems like an ideal choice for an EV battery joint venture. And, according to a press statement, it seems like it has already been working on the technology. “The company is making efforts to further enhance the safety and capacity of its automotive prismatic batteries, making use of its accumulated technological knowledge in the battery business,” the statement adds.
Toyota, though, has been ambivalent at best on the future of battery-only EVs. Despite the popularity of the Prius (and its plug-in hybrid variant) most of Toyota’s efforts have been concentrated on the Mirai FCEV, and lately its Project Portal FCEV truck.
Indeed, Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada recently remarked that: “Battery-powered cars with a long range are very expensive and it takes a long time to charge them. Such cars do not fit in our programme.”
Yet reports have also alleged that Toyota may be releasing a solid-state battery by 2022 – technology that perhaps more closely aligns with the company’s push for affordability and fast recharge rates.
A tie-up with Panasonic at least suggests that the automaker is exploring new avenues, and may yet be persuaded by the possibilities of battery EVs. Whether this venture will supply only Toyota models, or be licensed for other manufacturers, is unclear, but it is a promising step for a company that until recently looked happy to bet the house on hydrogen.