Elon Musk. Picture: REUTERS
Elon Musk. Picture: REUTERS

Beijing — Tesla said on Tuesday it had received quotes from Tianjin Lishen to supply batteries for its new Shanghai electric car factory but had not signed any agreement with the Chinese firm.

Earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, that Tesla and Lishen had signed a preliminary agreement and were working on the details.

The companies had yet to reach a decision on how large an order the US electric car company would place, and Lishen was still working out what battery cell size Tesla would require, one of the sources said. The source later reiterated that a preliminary agreement was signed.

The second source said that the certification process for suppliers usually took a long time to be finalised. The sources declined to be identified because the discussions are private.

"Tesla previously received quotes from Lishen, but did not proceed further. We have not signed any agreement of any kind with them," a Tesla spokesperson said.

Lishen said in a statement to Reuters that it had not signed any agreement with Tesla to supply batteries to the factory.

Japan's Panasonic is currently Tesla's exclusive battery cell supplier. Its shares closed down 2.7% after the Reuters report. It also announced a joint venture with Toyota on Tuesday to make electric vehicle batteries.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in November the US company would manufacture all its battery modules and packs at the Shanghai factory and planned to diversify its sources.

"Cell production will be sourced locally, most likely from several companies, in order to meet demand in a timely manner," Musk said in a tweet in November.

Panasonic said in a statement it was studying various possibilities with regards to Tesla's Shanghai plant, but nothing had been decided. It declined to comment on the possibility of losing exclusive-supplier status with Tesla.

Other battery makers in the running for contracts could include Contemporary Amperex Technology and LG Chem.

Tesla broke ground on the $2bn so-called Gigafactory, its first in China, earlier in January and plans to begin making Model 3 electric vehicles there by the end of 2019.

Musk has said the factory will produce "more affordable" vehicles for the Chinese auto market, the world's biggest, where the firm is facing mounting competition and risks from US-China trade tensions.

Apple supplier

Lishen, which says its clients range from Apple and Samsung Electronics to Geely and Hyundai Motor, has joined other battery makers in aggressively pursuing contracts with the rapidly growing EV industry.

The Chinese company started mass production of the same type of cylindrical battery made by Panasonic for Tesla's Model 3 in 2017, in the city of Suzhou about 100km away from Shanghai.

Panasonic and Toyota on Tuesday announced a joint venture that leverages the heft of one of the world's largest automakers and one of the world's biggest battery makers to expand their EV push.

The joint venture builds on the agreement that the pair announced in late 2017 on joint development of batteries with higher energy density in a prismatic cell arrangement.

It would also help Panasonic cut its heavy reliance on Tesla, whose production delays have weighed on the Japanese company's earnings.

Panasonic planned to shift most of its prismatic battery-related equipment and facilities in Japan and China to the joint venture, while those producing batteries for Tesla would remain under the company, a source said.