* Sony seeks partners to make cars into entertainment spaces
* Transformation of cars similar to rise of smartphones
TOKYO, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Sony Group will likely
add new technology partners to its electric vehicle (EV) project
to help it forge a mobility business to transform cars from
transportation machines to entertainment spaces, a Sony
executive told Reuters.
An ongoing shift to electric cars, which are easier to build
than those with internal combustion engines, is allowing new
entrants into vehicle manufacturing. At the same time,
autonomous driving and 5G connectivity is expected remold the
auto industry by turning cars into mobile platforms for
information and entertainment services.
"We see the risk of ignoring EVs as greater than the
challenge they pose," Izumi Kawanishi, the senior general
manager who will manage a new Sony Mobility business, said in an
interview. The coming transformation of cars was in some ways
similar to how information technology turned phones into
smartphones, he added.
Announcing the creation of that new mobility unit at the CES
technology tech fair in Las Vegas this month, Sony Chief
Executive Kenichiro Yoshida suggested for the first time that
the creator of PlayStation games consoles will try to turn an EV
development project started two years ago into a money-making
"We understand that speed is important in terms of making a
decision," said Kawanishi, who joined the Japanese consumer
electronics company as a software engineer in 1986 and heads the
AI Robotics unit making Sony's Aibo robot pet.
Kawanishi declined to say whether a final decision on
whether to go ahead would come this year.
So far, Sony has built two EV "Vision" prototypes with a
factory in Austria owned by Canadian auto parts maker Magna
International, which also makes cars for firms including
BMW, Mercedes Benz and Toyota Motor Corp .
Other members of its Europe-based project include German
auto parts maker Bosch, French automotive technology company
Valeo SE and Hungarian autonomous vehicle start-up AImotive.
To bring an EV to market, Sony would likely have to invest
heavily in plant and equipment. Tesla Inc, which
delivered its first electric vehicle in 2008, has spent billions
of dollars to make its business viable.
Sony will also have to take on traditional carmakers too,
such as Toyota, General Motors Co and Volkswagen AG
, which are spending tens of billions of dollars to
beat the EV newcomers.
Sony is one of a growing list of technology firms exploring
automotive opportunities, including iPhone maker Apple Inc
, South Korea's LG Electronics
Taiwan's Foxconn, and China's Alibaba Group
Sony will pick new partners for its EV project based on the
technology they can bring to the project, without regard to
their nationality, Kawanishi said, when asked if Sony would
partner with Chinese companies.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Shinji Kitamura; Editing by