Panasonic exemplifies the sea change, and the numbers show why.
Panasonic's automotive and industrial division generated the company's biggest slice of sales and operating profits in the first nine months of the current fiscal year ending March 31.
Meanwhile, the segment's operating profit margin rose to 4.0 percent in the latest quarter, from 3.5 percent the year before. By contrast, the margin at its traditional household appliances division slumped to 2.9 percent, from 3.5 percent a year earlier.
Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga wants to boost automotive sales to ¥2.0 trillion ($16.81 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, so that it accounts for 20 percent of the company's global revenue. That is up from $9.18 billion in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014, when automotive sales accounted for 15 percent of revenue.
Tsuga's aggressive expansion plan calls for entering the advanced driver assistance systems market, expanding the company's cockpit system business and becoming the world's No. 1 battery supplier for electrified green cars.
Panasonic already is a leader in power packs for electric and hybrid vehicles thanks to its supply of lithium ion batteries to Tesla Motors Inc.
It also supplies lithium ion batteries to Audi, Toyota and Ford and nickel-metal hydride batteries to Honda, Ford, Subaru, Nissan, Volkswagen and PSA Peugeot Citroen.
Panasonic expects its automotive battery sales to more than triple to $3.78 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, from $1.08 billion in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014.
Panasonic was among the early birds on the auto bandwagon.
Its Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. ranks No. 23 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers. Among its other products: audio and video equipment, cameras, navigation systems, compressors, motors, monitors, sensors, switches and head-up displays.
Another Japanese electronics company that is a giant in autos: Hitachi. Hitachi Automotive Systems ranks No. 20 on the Automotive News list. CEO Kunihiko Ohnuma says he targets double-digit global growth in automotive sales from 2016 to 2020 as the company taps surging demand for auto electronics.
Hitachi Automotive aims to leverage the parent company's core competency in all things digital to boost electronics to 60 percent of global revenue in the year to March 31, 2021. That would be up from about 46 percent in the year to March 31, 2013.
Automotive revenue still accounts for just 9 percent of the Hitachi Group's overall business. But its share has grown steadily from 6 percent in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2010.
Hitachi Automotive's Ohnuma acknowledges tougher competition from Japan's numerous electronics makers. But the automotive business is not so easy to crack, he warns. Hitachi has been supplying auto parts for 80 years, longer than Sony has been in business.
It is also tough for electronics companies to muscle into the Japanese auto industry's tightknit keiretsu system of vertically integrated auto manufacturers and suppliers.
"They may come, surely. But it may take a little more time," Ohnuma said in an interview. "It is very, very difficult to get confidence from the OEM. They have to trust us. It takes time."
Hitachi, like other aspiring suppliers, is also aggressively courting foreign manufacturers in America and Europe, which are less committed to traditional supplier ties.