Tesla Motors, the US maker of battery-powered sports cars, has secured financial backing from its third heavyweight industrial partner with a deal to sell $30m worth of shares to Panasonic of Japan.
The agreement, announced on Thursday, follows slightly larger investments in the California-based start-up by Toyota and Daimler, two of the world’s biggest car manufacturers, and a successful initial public offering of Tesla’s stock in June.
As with the previous deals, Tesla’s tie-up with Panasonic also covers development and supply of key technology – in this case the rechargeable batteries that power Tesla’s cars.
It builds on a multiyear deal to develop lithium-ion batteries agreed by the two companies earlier this year.
“We believe our partnership with them will enable us to further improve our battery pack while reducing cost,” said Elon Musk, Tesla chief executive.
Tesla has been raising money to expand production beyond its $109,000 Roadster, the nimble two-seater that is currently its only product.
It plans to start building a lower-priced battery-powered saloon, the Model S, in 2012 at a California plant formerly co-owned by Toyota and General Motors.
Panasonic’s investment gives it about 2 per cent of Tesla, whose market value has climbed by 28 per cent in the four months since it went public at $17 a share.
The Japanese group paid $21.15 each for newly issued shares in a private placement.
Panasonic is investing heavily in lithium-ion batteries and other environmentally friendly technology as it seeks to reduce its reliance on more traditional offerings such as televisions and home appliances.
Last year it bought Sanyo, a Japanese rival that is the world’s largest rechargeable-battery manufacturer.
It has also partnered with Toyota to make batteries for the carmaker’s Prius petrol-electric hybrid.
Unlike the Prius or electric-only vehicles being developed by major carmakers, which use large battery packs specially designed for automobiles, Tesla’s Roadster is powered by thousands of small, cylindrical rechargeable batteries.
These are similar to those used in digital cameras and other hand-held electronic devices.
Future Tesla vehicles are likely to use more specialised technology, but developing the necessary electronic controls and other support systems on its own would be difficult and expensive.
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