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CATL Plans Europe LFP Battery Plant with Stellantis
The announcement caps a milestone year for the Chinese battery giant: Let's review.
November 22, 2023
6 Min Read
CATL’s booth at the 2019 IAA Frankfurt Auto Show on September 11, 2019 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe via Getty Images
China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), the world’s largest maker of rechargeable lithium-ion (LI) batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), plans to build a gigafactory in Europe to produce lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries as part of a possible joint venture with Stellantis.
On November 21, the companies inked a preliminary agreement for providing LFP battery cells and modules for Stellantis EV manufacturing in Europe. Both parties are currently considering the possibility of a joint venture, with equal contributions from each, although the specifics regarding the plant's size and precise location remain undetermined as of now.
The announcement occurred the same day that Ford recommitted to building an LFP battery plant in Marshall, MI, in cooperation with CATL. Ford had paused construction during the recent UAW strike but now is set to resume (though with a scaled-back production capacity).
CATL’s big year
Those announcements are helping CATL end what has been a big year for the company on a high note, thanks to several advances in its technology and operations.
A major first for CATL is its fast-charging Shenxing Superfast Charging Battery, launched in August. Billed as the world’s first 4C superfast charging LFP (lithium iron phosphate) battery, CATL says the unit can deliver 400 km (248 miles) of driving range with a 10-minute charge. On a single full charge, the battery’s range jumps to more than 700 km (434 miles). The battery is to enter mass production by the end of this year, with new EVs using the battery expected on the market by the first quarter of 2024.
CATL’s milestones for 2023 include:
Opening the first phase of a new production facility the company claims can manufacturer one cell per second.
Launching a condensed battery with energy density up to 500 Wh/kg.
Donating a supercharging station to Tibet’s Medog County that will be able to “refuel” dozens of EVs simultaneously.
Announcing plans to achieve carbon neutrality in core operations by 2025 and across its battery value chain by 2035. Four of CATL’s factories have achieved carbon-neutral status so far.
CATL Chairman and General Manager Dr. Robin Zeng even won this year’s award for Outstanding Contribution in Sustainability from the Nobel Sustainability Trust Foundation “for his tremendous contribution regarding global transportation electrification,” according to a company press release. And on June 21, CATL was named to TIME magazine’s third-annual TIME100 Most Influential Companies list.
Chairman and CEO of Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) Robin Zeng speaks during the Lanting Forum in Shanghai on April 21, 2023. (Image credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Growth and partnerships
CATL has been “ranked No. 1 globally in EV battery consumption volume for six consecutive years,” according to the company’s website. Founded in 2011 in Fujian, China, CATL boasts 13 production bases and five R&D centers.
Supplying batteries to top marques including Tesla, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Volkswagen AG, and others, CATL’s share of the EV battery market grew throughout 2022 to provide momentum for 2023. According to Seoul-based SNE Research, CATL accounted for 37.1% of global sales in the first 11 months of 2022, selling 165.7 gigawatt hours of batteries—almost three times as many as competitors BYD and LG Energy Solution. For the third quarter of 2023, CATL reported a 10% increase in net income from a year earlier, with revenue increasing 8.2%, according to Bloomberg.
While the company’s 3Q earnings missed estimates because of some slowdown in EV demand, CATL continued to build its strategic partnerships with top brands. For instance, in October, the company announced that the first vehicle to feature its new fast-charging Shenxing Superfast Charging Battery will be the Exeed Exlantix, the premium EV model of China’s Chery Holding Group. The SUV—the first in Chery’s new EV portfolio—went into production in October. Other automotive brands that have adopted the battery for future use are Avatr and NETA, the company noted.
“Our goal is to make high-quality energy technology accessible across the globe, and help achieve international sustainability goals,” Zeng stated.
CATL’s Chief Manufacturing Officer Ni Jun elaborated on the company’s plans in a presentation for the World Economics Forum’s Lighthouses Live 2023 in November.
Among the topics that are top of mind for CATL are scaling production, boosting productivity through augmented intelligence, achieving sustainable manufacturing, and developing its workforce.
“At CATL, we have hundreds of production lines,” Jun explained, “and they all have similar characteristics. When we discover one opportunity—for example, in energy consumption—if we see an opportunity to improve energy consumption, we quickly adapt to the rest of the production lines in our corporations. That simple innovation can produce a very large effect.”
Each of CATL’s production lines has unique requirements, he continued, meaning scaling requires some customization.
To build and maintain a cutting-edge workforce, CATL has created more than 22,000 courses—with about 400 dedicated to the transition to smart, digital manufacturing. With 130,000 employees, Jun noted course attendance of 960,000—“that means many people went to multiple courses.” He also said 22,000 company employees are trained in the latest IT, AT (assistive technology), and DT (digital twin) technologies. The company also established a new Intelligent Manufacturing Development department with over 400 engineers.
“This IMD department is specifically looking for opportunities to adopt 4R technology to solve production problems or engineering problems or product design problems,” Jun explained. “Sometimes they even go beyond the CATL boundary to our upstream or downstream suppliers or vendors to help bring smart manufacturing to our production.”
CATL Chief Scientist Wu Kai presents the Condensed Battery at Auto Shanghai. (Image courtesy of CATL)
Digital transformation continues
Despite CATL’s innovations and digital-forward thinking to date, “We’ve probably only touched the tip of the iceberg,” Jun asserted. CATL is executing a total digital transformation of functions across its organization—HR, finance, purchasing, internal service, engineering, research, marketing, and after-sales—“systematically trying to use more digital platforms to automate our process.”
Additionally, “we are looking for how we can use big data, AI as well as generative AI … because the first effort, the digitalization, only solves the automation problem. The routine work will be done with the help of computers … that solves the efficiency problem.
“But now when we talk about smart solutions, we try to do better than what human beings can do. Because human beings are limited; we can only recall a certain number of things, we can only imagine several variable interactions. When the number of variable interactions becomes hundreds of thousands, we are limited. Computers, on the other hand, can do much better recalling (and) associating, so we are trying to combine human being’s intelligence with machine intelligence — what we call augmented intelligence. We hope in the future CATL’s design process will be much faster, more efficient and can do better than what our best human designer can do.”
Meanwhile, by providing young engineers with generative AI assistance tools, Jun said CATL might be able to shorten the time it takes engineers to be able to design expertly on their own. “Can we help an engineering college graduate, after a half-year of learning the tool, become an independent designer? Maybe a designer who has three years of experience can design a product which is better than a 10-year engineer used to be able to achieve.”
EV Battery Leaders is a series of occasional features profiling the top makers of EV batteries worldwide.
About the Author(s)
Geoff Giordano is a tech journalist with more than 30 years’ experience in all facets of publishing. He has reported extensively on the manufacturing, medical, and plastics industries. A top-shelf content creator, versatile large-market journalist, and tireless communications strategist, Geoff notes that after running a daily news operation, everything else is a piece of cake. Contact him at [email protected].
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