Panasonic will be 100 years old in 2018, but when Tom Gebhardt, CEO of Panasonic North America, looks to the future he looks at disruptors like Tesla Motors for the insightfulness of the next 100 years.
When Gebhardt was asked if Tesla would be around in two years, he nodded up and down, and said, “I think consumers speak, and when you have consumers behind you, and pent-up demand and they desire your product you have every reason to survive.”
Gebhardt acknowledges that consumers can be finicky and that consumers can be hard to guess, and they can change quickly. But consumer behavior is something Panasonic knows pretty well, “the industry has to get its head around the fact that life cycles have to be shorter; they have to be able to adjust.” Gebhardt went on to say that modulizing electric vehicles are a lot easier than an internal combustion engine, producing EVs in a more LEGO-like fashion to meet the requirements of the end user ~ which is all that is important in the end.
Autonomous and ride-share will definitely happen Gebhardt says, because “people want more time in their day and driving and being behind the wheel is not productive.” By 2030, Gebhardt said, at least 15 percent of vehicles, over 15 million vehicles, on the road would be autonomous. Gebhardt thinks that by 2025 smartphone app-based based mobility services could reach 15 percent. All of these will disrupt the industry and force faster life cycles, he said. It’s just a matter of when because there is a value of time.
Panasonic is impressed with Tesla’s ability to have “pent-up demand like nobody else in the industry. It’s not that they just put out an electric vehicle, they put out an electric vehicle that people are willing to wait two years for.”
Automotive is the largest piece of Panasonic’s business in North America. Not bad for a one-hundred-year-old company that started its firm producing lightbulb sockets. The convergence of sound systems and mobility over the last ten years, plus batteries. The Gigafactory is the most substantial undertaking by Panasonic. All the batteries coming out of that factory will be dedicated to Tesla at this point. There are factories in Japan and China, two of them, just to produce lithium-ion batteries. Panasonic is the number one maker of EV batteries.
Gebhardt talked about safety and connectivity and predicted that by 2022 cars with internal combustion engines and electric vehicles could reach “parity” regarding cost and functionality. Panasonic is creating the first intelligent highway system, ninety miles of highway in the U.S. starting in Colorado.
I asked Gebhardt about well-to-wheel of the battery versus the internal combustion engine, “and By itself, being eco-friendly is not an enabler for mass adoption, Gebhardt said.
Some companies that have been an ongoing concern as long as Panasonic has, tend to undermine the disruptors, others learn from them and move quickly towards them. Time is critically important, for the consumer and the company.