CATL burdening Tesla ahead of battery event

A AionS model of Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor's (GAC) went up in flames in China. The vehicle was equipped with CATL's NCM811, which experts believe to be the cause of the fire. / Yonhap

By Kim Hyun-bin

Ahead of the scheduled Tesla Battery Day, next month, Tesla is feeling pressure after the stability of its Chinese partner's batteries have been called into question.

China's CATL, the battery manufacturer battling with Korea's LG Chem for the top position in the world market, is working with Tesla on a "million-mile" battery. However, CATL appears to need more time before expanding its partnership with Tesla as the company's battery technology has been facing problems.

Specifically, the safety of CATL's battery technology has come into question after several EVs equipped with the company's NCM811 batteries caught fire.

Three AionS vehicles made by Guangzhou Automobile Group Motor caught fire on three occasions over the span of three months, with separate incidents on May 18, Aug. 12 and Aug. 23. GAC has not officially released the exact cause of the event, but many experts say the CATL batteries in the vehicles are likely the cause.

CATL's NCM811 batteries are being supplied to several EV models including AionS, BMW iX3 and GEELY.

Although CATL ranks No. 2 in sales, the company seems to be lacking crucial battery technologies compared to Korean battery giants LG Chem and Samsung SDI.

This is why CATL has been recruiting Korean personnel over the years to secure key technologies for its battery business. The Chinese company caught up somewhat by commercializing the NCM811 in 2019, but it is still a year behind Korean firms. However, local companies will need to keep their guard up as CATL is in hot pursuit.

"CATL has caught up to 80 percent of local firms' capabilities technology-wise," a local battery firm official said. "They are just three to four years away from catching up to our current R&D."

In May, CATL announced that the current battery NCM811 production is at just 20 percent production capacity, claiming it plans to drastically expand its business in the near future.

"CATL's production yield was about 45 to 55 percent and that means the possible defectiveness of its product is still high," an official at one of the country's leading battery manufacturers said.

Korean firms on the other hand resolved all safety issues in 2018 and commercialized the NCM811.

In the same year, LG Chem mass-produced NCM811 for electric buses and partially provided supplies for the Tesla Model 3 that is currently being sold in China. The company is developing an upgraded version of the battery dubbed NCMA that reduces the reliance on cobalt and puts in aluminum. The battery is set to go into mass production by 2022.

SK Innovation is producing the NCM811 in three factories including in China and Hungary, supplying it to Hyundai and ARKFOX.

Starting 2023, SK is scheduled to supply its upgraded NCM to Ford F-150 pickup trucks. Similarly, Samsung SDI is set to release its fifth-generation EV battery next year, which increased nickel content by 88 percent. The company's nickel NCA battery will be loaded in the next-generation BMW EVS with the two companies signing a deal worth 4 trillion won.

Kim Hyun-bin

Top 10 Stories


Sign up for eNewsletter