Tesla Watch Out: Samsung To Build Electric Cars?

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Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest conglomerate, is certainly interested in growing its business. Based on patents uncovered by the Wall Street Journal (online), it appears as if Samsung may be considering the production of electric cars.

Samsung is well-known for not sharing any of the company’s plans and this didn’t change when The Wall Street Journal reached out to them for comment this week. Actually, Samsung went further than usual when the company flatly denied any interest in the electric vehicle industry. However, the WSJ’s findings do suggest that the patents it unearthed would be of little use in other applications.

Despite Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) success in the United States, electric cars have failed to attain real global traction. Samsung may be looking to change this given the increasing competition in its key television and smartphone manufacturing divisions.

It’s important to note that Samsung files for many patents each year, and handfuls of them never see the light of day or commercial production. But many analysts believe that if electric cars ever do really take off, they may be made by wholly unexpected manufacturers.

“Should the world enter an era of electric vehicles, the borderlines between auto makers and electronics companies will be blurred,” said Jae H. Lee, an analyst with Daiwa Securities. And of course, one of the most dynamic markets for electric cars will always be Asia, a region that Samsung is fully entrenched in presently and presumably in the future.

The patents that the WSJ found were published by both the Korea Intellectual Property Rights Information Service and the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The patents include technology applications for engines, tires and on-board electronics.

But the crux of the case for Samsung’s interest in electric cars came from a single filing where the company wrote, “Hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles have gained more popularity due to harmful environmental effects from air pollution and an increasing shortage of fossil fuels.”

The Samsung Group’s first move into the automobile industry was an unmitigated disaster in the 1990’s. Samsung Motors Inc, launched a sedan that was never embraced partly due to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. The company is now called Renault-Samsung Motors Corp. having sold the division to Renault in the late 90’s. It is a partnership in name only as Renault is forced to use the Samsung name until 2020 in a “face-saving” agreement with the French automaker.

Samsung Card Co., which is a credit-card affiliate of the Samsung Group and holds stakes in various Samsung companies, still has a 19.9% stake in Renault-Samsung.

Presently, Samsung has limited its presence the electric car sector to its battery-making affiliate Samsung SDI. Samsung SDI Co Ltd (KRX:006400) has supply deals with BMW, Chrysler and Mahindra & Mahindra for rechargeable batteries. This, however, may be changing, with one patent suggesting that Samsung’s medical business is looking to offer a technology that will present consumers with “optimized driving conditions by controlling the vehicle based on a driver’s private medical information.”

Also see: Samsung Galaxy S5: A Gadget Worth Waiting For

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