Panasonic Said in Talks to Buy ZKW; Headlight Maker Denies Sale

(Bloomberg) -- Panasonic Corp. is in discussions to buy Austrian headlight manufacturer ZKW Group GmbH, a person familiar with the matter said, becoming the latest major electronics manufacturer to branch out into auto parts.

The deal amount hasn’t been decided and it’s not clear whether and when it will be announced, said the person, who asked not be identified because the negotiations are private. The Nikkei newspaper earlier reported the headlight maker could be worth as much as 100 billion yen ($880 million), without citing names.

Waldemar Poechhacker, a spokesman for ZKW, said the Wieselburg-based company isn’t in talks with Panasonic or any other buyer, and that this is an “old rumor” that’s come up before. ZKW is owned by businessman Ulrich Mommert via ZKW Holding, he said. Hitomi Ishikawa, a spokeswoman for Osaka-based Panasonic, declined to comment.

The potential purchase of ZKW, which produces light-emitting diode (LED) headlights, would be part of the Japanese company’s efforts to expand into the automobile market, an area it has targeted to offset slowing demand in electronic appliances. ZKW, which was founded in 1938, specializes in high-beam headlights that reduce glare for oncoming drivers or pedestrians. It’s forecasting sales of more than 900 million euros ($952 million) this year, up from less than 400 million euros in 2011, according to its website.

The shares of Panasonic rose less than 1 percent in Tokyo on Monday. The stock has slipped 2.7 percent this year, while the Nikkei 225 Index has declined 4 percent.

Asian electronics companies have increasingly pushed into the auto-parts market in recent years. Samsung Electronics Co. last month agreed to pay $8 billion for Stamford, Connecticut-based Harman International Industries Inc., which makes connected dashboards. In July, the Korean company invested $449 million in Shanghai-based electric-car maker BYD Co. and was at one time considering investing in Fiat’s auto parts unit. Tokyo-based Sony Corp. has boosted its business in creating image sensors used in cars to detect nearby objects.

Panasonic is investing in facilities to produce batteries for electric cars, including those of Tesla Motors Inc. Panasonic’s car-related revenue, which also includes its industrial-systems business, stood at 2.54 trillion yen last year, accounting for 34 percent of sales.