Seen by some as a moral imperative, electrification is swiftly changing the dynamics of the automotive industry. While automakers spend billions of dollars developing EVs and securing the necessary partners, many are becoming dependent on a handful of companies in Asia for the all-important battery cells needed to power the damn things. It’s gotten so serious that the U.S. government has taken an interest following a December 2019 report from the Institute for Defense Analyses that claimed battery manufacturers had taken on an “outsized importance” in the automotive sector.
It also said the United States would be at a distinct disadvantage if there are supply shortages — which is something that has already happened and is presumed to worsen as more electric vehicles flood into the market over the next few years. The automotive industry is pushing hard into electrification as governments around the world attempt to plot out an elaborate plan to supplant the internal combustion vehicle with EVs. But there are concerns that this has stacked the deck for a small number of suppliers from China, South Korea, and Japan.
With practically every automaker on the planet attempting to make the electric vehicle segment work for them as well as Tesla has, they’re stepping all over each other to gain access to the components necessary to build them.
Everything from securing the raw materials for high-density cells to improving relationships with established battery suppliers will be essential for maximizing market share and embarrassing industry rivals like the little bitches they (hopefully) are. This has been especially true of German brands, who are trying to roll with increasingly demanding emission rules in Europe and China while likewise hoping to improve all-electric range and lower EV production costs.
Daimler, which already has supply deals with SK Innovation, LG Chem and Farasis, is seeking to bolster its partnership with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) to address some of the challenges listed above. Mercedes-Benz wants to launch its EQS luxury electric sedan using CATL cells in 2021 — ideally with at least 435 miles of range per charge. While Daimler uses Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) metrics that typically average lower when assessed by the U.S. regulators, the proposed target remains enviable.
Tesla plans to introduce a cheaper, longer-lasting battery in Model 3 sedans produced for Chinese customers. With the industry awaiting the next breakthrough in battery tech, and the hope that such a development will bring electric vehicle pricing closer to internal combustion units, this is a big deal.
Initial data also seems to suggest these cells plan on delivering — offering more affordable production options and a million-mile lifespan (a claim always worthy of a grain of salt). According to those familiar with the plan, the batteries also have the capability to be extracted from cars to serve as home-energy solutions. Battery waste is going to become a serious problem once EVs enter into the mainstream. Tesla’s new plan might fail to address the endgame, but it could prolong their usefulness and buy additional time before they have to be recycled or stored at specially designated waste containment areas that can handle hazardous materials.