The overwhelming majority of the solar cells produced at the facility are now being sold overseas rather than being used in Tesla's "Solar Roof" photovoltaic product, according to a Reuters report on Wednesday, citing a letter to United States customs officials from Panasonic, Tesla's partner on the plant.
The piece also noted that Panasonic's production is distinct from Tesla, set up on the other side of the building, despite Tesla's portrayal of the deal as a close collaboration. Panasonic manufactures solar cells and assembles panels at the factory for Tesla and others.
The exporting underscores the depth of Tesla's troubles in the USA solar business, which the electric auto maker entered in 2016 with its controversial $2.6 billion purchase of SolarCity. He had been the chairman of SolarCity and is a cousin of the cofounders, Peter and Lyndon Rive, both of whom have since left.
This is a new market that arose after the Trump administration imposed tariffs on overseas-made panels in 2018, according to Reuters.
Panasonic also produces traditional solar panels at the Buffalo plant for Tesla, but has been selling many of them to other buyers since at least past year due to low demand from the California auto company, Reuters reported in August 2018.
That request was granted in April.
Canal would not disclose the company's non-Tesla solar cell customers or say what percentage of its Buffalo cell output was being shipped outside the country, saying that information was "proprietary and competitive".
Tesla said in late 2016 that it had finalized an agreement with Panasonic to begin manufacturing photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules at the Buffalo, NY, factory. While Panasonic has been making Solar Roof cells, Tesla "took issue with their aesthetics and cost" and had turned to a Chinese supplier as well, Bloomberg reported, citing several sources.
Tesla reported Wednesday that it has exceeded its 2019 jobs target for NY state, with 632 full-time and four part-time jobs through the end of April - more than the 500 it was required to have.
Tesla inherited the factory, known as RiverBend, through its purchase of SolarCity, and is now required to deliver on investment and employment promises that SolarCity had made in exchange for $750 million in state subsidies. But it still appears likely to fall short of the almost 1,500 employees required by 2020, which would trigger financial penalties and has already prompted sharp criticisms of the deal by some state legislators. "Tesla produces their innovative solar roof tiles largely for development and testing with the goal of full scale launch in the future".
Today, the companies operate separately at the Buffalo factory, according to one current and one former Panasonic employee.