TOKYO/LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and BMW AG are turning to laptops for a cheaper way to power their electric cars -- and their sales.
Automakers are testing packs of lithium-ion batteries assembled by Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors Inc. costing less than bigger, car-only batteries favored by General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
A pack of 6,831 cylinder-shaped cells made by Panasonic Corp. powers Tesla's $109,000 Roadster sports car for up to 245 miles (nearly 295km) per charge.
The car industry will help lithium-ion battery makers more than triple sales to 5 trillion yen ($60 billion) in a decade from 1.5 trillion yen in the year ending in March, according to Sanyo Electric Co., the world's biggest maker of the batteries.
Rechargeable consumer-electronics batteries benefit from an economy of scale that may help cut manufacturing costs and sticker prices in the nascent electric-car industry, said Koji Endo, a Tokyo-based analyst at Advanced Research Japan.
“It may lead to the total component cost of an electric car getting lower than that of a gasoline car,” Endo said. “As the cost lowers, there'll be more likelihood that retail prices of electric cars will drop.”
Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf
EV prices are higher than three-quarters of the autos now sold, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with GM's Chevrolet Volt selling for $41,000 and Nissan's Leaf for $32,780.
Electric vehicles cost about twice as much to produce as gasoline-engine cars because the batteries are so expensive, according to consultant Frost & Sullivan Inc.
Sales of EVs and hybrids, including plug-in models, will reach about 954,000 worldwide this year, or about 2.2 percent of all car sales, J.D. Power and Associates, an industry forecaster in Westlake Village, California, estimated in October.
Government subsidies may help boost sales of plug-in hybrids and EVs to 9 percent of auto sales in 2020, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated last month.
Panasonic, the majority shareholder in Sanyo, is the main supplier of lithium-ion cells to Tesla and last month bought a $30 million stake in the Palo Alto, California, company. Toyota and Daimler also own Tesla stakes.
Panasonic boosted its annual production capacity for the small batteries by 9 percent to 1.4 billion units after opening a plant in Osaka, Japan. The company wants to increase sales of energy-related products because of tougher competition in its television-making business.
Packs assembled by Tesla power Daimler's electric Smarts and Mercedes-Benz A-class cars, and Toyota will use Tesla's small-cell packs in an electric RAV4 in 2012.
BMW leased 450 Minis powered by laptop cells, and Volkswagen AG studied the technology at its California facility.