Panasonic Says Windfall From Autonomous Cars Still Years Away

  • Company expects $18 billion in car-related sales by 2019
  • President Kazuhiro Tsuga speaks on sidelines at CES Las Vegas

Self-driving cars may be all the rage, but Panasonic Corp.’s President Kazuhiro Tsuga says it will be years before autonomous systems contribute meaningfully to the company’s bottom line.

Panasonic, which has partnerships with Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Motors Inc., forecasts sales in the automotive segment will climb to 2.1 trillion yen ($17.8 billion) in the year ending March 2019. Most of that will come from cockpit infotainment systems and car batteries, Tsuga told reporters on the sidelines of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday. The company estimates about 1.3 trillion yen of automotive revenue in the year ending March 2016, according to its website.

“We will offer support on the component level, but for the time being, autonomous driving will be limited to controlled environments,” Tsuga said. “Slow and steady, that’s our stance.”

Self-Driving Rush

Companies ranging from graphics chipmaker Nvidia Corp. to BlackBerry Ltd. are making moves in the space as traditional automakers and newer rivals such as Google and Uber Technologies Inc. race to develop autonomous driving technology.

Blackberry laid out its plans Wednesday for building autonomous car software. The company’s QNX software division showed off demo cars that can scan for obstacles, keep from straying from a highway lane and communicate wirelessly with nearby vehicles to avoid accidents.

Nvidia, looking to expand its reach in the automotive market, has introduced a new computer for vehicles that includes artificial-intelligence features to make them more autonomous. Volvo Car Corp. will use the new product in its public trials of autonomous vehicles in 2017, the chipmaker said.

Tesla, which together with Panasonic is building a lithium-ion battery “gigafactory” in Nevada, in October rolled out an Autopilot suite that can drive on well-tended highways and change lanes safely without the driver taking the wheel.

“I haven’t tried it yet,” Tsuga said. “But if I have a chance, I certainly would like to.”

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