By Kim Yoo-chul
Tesla Motors and Samsung SDI are in talks over whether to expand their partnership in batteries for electric cars, industry officials said Sunday.
"With Tesla seeking to diversify its battery sourcing channels beyond its key partner Panasonic, Samsung SDI will have greater room to supply more electric vehicle (EV) batteries to Tesla," said an official who declined to be named.
Samsung SDI is expected to account for about 8 percent of Tesla battery demand this year, worth 36 billion won. It expects to raise that portion to 40 percent in 2016, with sales to the American company rising to 254 billion won.
"From next year to 2018, Samsung SDI may handle 40 percent of Tesla demand," said another source directly involved with the issue.
Samsung SDI said nothing has been decided.
Samsung SDI's target for EV batteries is considered as rather aggressive. But optimists say EVs remain economically-viable with gas at $2 per gallon.
Even with plunging oil prices, analysts say the economics for EVs is well supported as they are still at parity with conventional vehicles after 5 years of ownership at the current gas price level.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects to sell "a few million EVs a year by 2025. The company will soon start building two new factories, one each in Europe and Asia.
To that extent, Tesla needs additional battery partners.
"We expect more development from Tesla's Gigafactory planned for 2020. Some of the battery demand within the project could be allocated to different partners, for which we believe Samsung SDI remains well positioned on the basis of both technology and capacity," said Mark Newman at Bernstein Research.
"For Samsung SDI, a meaningful development in regard to partnership with Tesla would first help sentiment in terms of earnings impact," he said.
Research firm Navigant Research said 2014 global EV sales were estimated at 2.7 million, accounting for 3.3% of global light vehicle sales for the year.
Samsung SDI's share of the EV battery market stood at around 7.2 percent last year, driven mostly by the strong performance of the BMW i3.