By Michael Kanellos
Panasonic (PC) formally launched its $4.5 billion takeover bid for control over Sanyo (OTC:SANYY) today. The deal will likely further expand the Japanese giant's move into green.
Sanyo was the twelfth largest solar cell manufacturer in the world, with 210 megawatts of capacity, according to GTM Research. It also makes solar modules and thin-film modules. The combined companies will also command a 30 percent global market share in lithium-ion batteries, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The deal won't mark Panasonic's entry into green technology. Instead, the deal expands a growing product portfolio and gives it an opportunity to expand internationally, assuming it can overcome the inertia that often seizes conglomerates.
Panasonic already provides batteries to Toyota (NYSE:TM) for the Prius and will sell lithium-ion batteries to Tesla Motors for the Model S. In Japan and maybe Europe, the company hopes to get its construction division to produce green homes in a few years. The homes will come complete with energy-efficient appliances and TVs (see a video of its water-saving washing machine here). One idea it is working on is DC-to-AC hybrid wiring for solar homes.
Earlier this year, it started selling home fuel cells that turn methane into hydrogen (for electricity) and heat in conjunction with utility Osaka Gas. And, like a lot of TV manufacturers, it has begun to tout energy efficiency as a selling point in TVs. Some of its plasma TVs consume only 142 watts, explained Pete Fannon, vice president of technology, policy and government regulation at Panasonic.
The company also recently announced plans to release a LED light bulb that costs $40, consumes about 7 watts, and emits as much light as a 60-watt incandescent.
Need more? Panasonic also participates in electronics recycling facilities and is a member of a number of smart grid panels in the U.S.
Panasonic isn't often thought of by U.S. and European consumers as a "green" manufacturer. Many of its consumer products are only sold in Japan. Internationally, it has mostly served as a components manufacturer. The Sanyo deal may begin to change that a bit. Panasonic may also begin to export some of its Japanese products internationally.
The combined companies, though, will also have to battle with the sluggishness that comes with conglomerate-itis. The acquisition, after all, comes as a result of financial losses at Sanyo. Japanese solar manufacturers have lost ground in recent years to First Solar from the U.S. as well as to China's Suntech Power Holdings, and they have not followed SunPower's push into branding and advertising. Speed, flexibility, marketing: Sometimes these personality traits just don't rise to the surface.
Other Asian conglomerates also seem intent on capitalizing on the movement toward green. Toshiba, a major manufacturer of LEDs and batteries, said it may begin to make acquisitions in LEDs. TSMC, the Taiwanese chipmaker, has been scouting for acquisition targets in solar and LEDs in Silicon Valley. Samsung has also begun to ramp up green activities and says it will be the largest solar manufacturer in the world by 2015, a path paved in party by its expertise in TV manufacturing. Some large Asian conglomerates are creating building management systems.
These companies, arguably, have something that startups and politicians say U.S. companies often lack: size. These conglomerates all have factories, manufacturing expertise and large amounts of capital, or at least more capital than most startups. In a market where the products largely come off of a production line, that's a big deal.