SunPower Seeks Hybrid-Buying Customers With Lure of Pure Solar

Aug 06, 2014 12:01 am ET

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Buyers of Volkswagen or Audi hybrids will find themselves getting yet another sales pitch as they leave a U.S. dealership next year -- to buy a home power network that allows them to charge their new cars using only solar power.

SunPower Corp., the second-largest U.S. solar manufacturer, has joined German automaker Volkswagen AG to market the panel- and-battery systems in a bid to get environmentally conscious customers interested in residential power systems.

It’s part of the San Jose, California-based company’s vision to reach new customers through consumer electronics, hybrid cars and other devices that use electricity, Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner said in a phone interview yesterday. With battery systems to store power generated from rooftop panels to release on demand, SunPower customers can make their hybrid car truly solar-powered, reducing the amount of electricity they need to buy from the grid, he said.

“This is another brick in the wall of becoming an energy services company,” Werner said. “You’ve got customers who appreciate efficiency, great engineering. It doesn’t have to be a car company.”

While SunPower has similar marketing agreements in place with Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., the agreement announced yesterday with Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen includes an option for battery storage that the company isn’t yet providing to other customers.

The solar and battery power system is currently in final testing and expected to be available in early 2015. With the battery option, the system can charge a car using the cheapest power, either from the local utility or the rooftop panels. Werner declined to provide price details for the system.

Solar panel prices have been falling on technological advances and an oversupply driven by Chinese manufacturers. As the price of panels on homeowner rooftops declines, SunPower is seeking to reduce marketing and customer acquisition costs, Werner said.

SunPower has gained 35 percent in the past year as sales and profits have climbed, beating analysts’ estimates. The shares dropped 2.1 percent to $33.26 yesterday in New York.