Panasonic appoints Kusumi new CEO, replacing Tesla supporter Tsuga

FILE PHOTO: A man is seen next to Panasonic Corp’s logo at Panasonic Center in Tokyo, Japan, February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File photo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Panasonic Corp said on Friday it has appointed Yuki Kusumi, the head of its automotive business, as its next chief executive officer, replacing Kazuhiro Tsuga, a supporter of Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk.

The change, effective April 1, comes as strong sales of Tesla electric vehicles have allowed Panasonic’s battery business to eke out profits following several years of production troubles and delays at the U.S. partner.

The partnership with Tesla, particularly a $1.6 billion bet on a battery joint venture in Nevada in 2014, was central to the incumbent chief’s strategy to shift away from low-margin consumer electronics to batteries, factory machines and components.

Kusumi, as the head of the automotive business, oversaw the launch of a joint battery venture with Toyota Motor Corp in April, which took over Panasonic’s business in thin, rectangular-shaped prismatic batteries.

The strategy to focus on business customers, however, has yet to generate stable profits, and the new chief is likely to be tasked with further overhauling a sprawling business portfolio that ranges from facial steamers to bicycles.

Panasonic said separately that it would change to a holding company structure in April 2022, to clarify responsibilities of each business division and speed up decision-making processes.

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