UPDATE 1-SunPower, facing tariffs, mulls expanding U.S. manufacturing

(Adds background, details and quotes from CEO interview)

March 16 (Reuters) - SunPower Corp said on Friday it was strongly considering expanding its solar panel manufacturing in the United States as it grapples with the Trump administration's tariffs on solar imports.

The news came as the company filed a request that some of its foreign-made panels be exempted from the new 30-percent tariffs. Friday is the deadline for companies to file such requests.

SunPower argued that its highly efficient, premium-priced solar panels could not be compared with the more conventional models that dominate the market. The company is based in San Jose, California but does most of its manufacturing in the Philippines and Mexico.

In an interview, Chief Executive Tom Werner said the company was not seeking an exemption for its less efficient and expensive "P-series" panels and would likely set up a new U.S. manufacturing plant for that product.

An exclusion of its other products from the tariffs "just makes it far easier to make that investment," Werner said.

"We understand the administration's goals," he said. "We think we can contribute positively to those objectives."

The new manufacturing would likely be in the Southwest, but Werner declined to give details. It would create hundreds of jobs, he said.

President Donald Trump's decision in January to impose 30 percent tariffs on cheap imported panels was intended to protect American manufacturuing jobs. However, many in the solar industry -- including SunPower -- say the tariffs will raise costs and trigger thousands of layoffs in the installation end of the industry.

It remains to be seen whether the tariffs will spur substantial new investment in U.S. panel manufacturing. China's JinkoSolar said shortly after the tariffs were announced in January that it was planning to build a U.S. manufacturing facility.

SolarWorld, one of the panel producers behind the trade case that resulted in the tariffs, has said it will hire 200 employees this year. Suniva, the bankrupt company that first sought the tariffs, has not outlined its plans publicly.

SunPower said earlier this year that it had put a $20 million factory expansion and hundreds of new jobs on hold pending a decision on an exclusion from the tariffs.

If it receives the exemption, Werner said SunPower would "materially" reverse that decision, but would not invest the full $20 million as originally planned.

SunPower is majority owned by France's Total SA. Its request for an exemption from the tariffs will undergo a 30-day comment period before the U.S. Trade Representative makes a decision. (Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Bernadette Baum)