Panasonic announced earlier this week that it will produce the new 4680-type cylindrical lithium-ion batteries in Japan, but it might be just the first step before something bigger.
Reuters and Bloomberg report, after Japanese public broadcaster NHK, that Panasonic is looking to purchase land for a battery factory in the US, which would produce a new type of battery cell for Tesla. It's not an official report and NHK's sources were not disclosed.
NHK mentioned that the investment might be worth several hundred billion yen, which potentially means several billion dollars. That would be enough for a large battery gigafactory.
Reportedly, the site might be located in either Oklahoma or Kansas, which are both relatively close to Austin, Texas, where Tesla is building its new plant. The Tesla Giga Austin factory is expected to soon start production of the Tesla Model Y, powered by the Tesla's 4680-type cylindrical cells.
Tesla and Panasonic are long-term partners. The Japanese company not only supplies Tesla with batteries (1865-type and 2170-type cylindrical cells) but also produces the 2170-type cells at the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada.
Over the years, Tesla diversified its battery supply chain (including LG Chem's LG Energy Solution and CATL) and even developed its own battery format (the new 4680-type) with a pilot production facility in Fremont, California.
The rumor about Panasonic's potential new investment sounds reasonable because the company is engaged in the 4680-type cell development at Tesla's request. The upcoming production in Japan (10 GWh per year - two production lines at Wakayama Factory) simply does not sound like enough volume to justify developments of a new product, but rather the first commercial-scale site before scaling up outside of Japan.
On a number of occasions, Tesla mentioned that it is interested in 4680-type cylindrical cell production at a level of 100 GWh (on top of the pilot site's output which potentially could go up to 10 GWh per year).
Besides Panasonic, also other battery manufacturers are interested in Tesla's 4680-type cylindrical cells. According to rumors, one of them is LG Chem's LG Energy Solution.