China’s electric-vehicle makers need to return production to normal levels in the next few months to prevent a bigger hit to supply chains already pressured by an unprecedented plunge in auto sales, according to the country’s third-biggest producer of batteries for the industry.
Guoxuan High-Tech Co.’s operations have been negatively affected by the coronavirus crisis, Chairman Li Zhen said in an interview, as the outbreak paralyzed swathes of Asia’s top economy and triggered a record fall in light-vehicle sales. The company makes rechargeable batteries for Chinese carmakers including SAIC Motor Corp. and Chery Automobile Co.
“It’s still manageable at the moment, and will be OK if customers such as car companies can quickly resume production this month,” he said. “But if that is not improved between March and May, it will bring relatively greater challenges to our sales goals.”
China’s purchases of new energy vehicles collapsed 78 percent in February, in line with the drop in the wider auto market, as customers stayed away from showrooms. Coronavirus-related disruptions added to earlier stresses in the sector, including a reduction in government subsidies.
Li said he’s optimistic given the health emergency in China appears to be easing and there’s prospects for government stimulus. But Guoxuan, like many of manufacturers across the country, is waiting for demand to return amid a slow resumption of activity.
New energy transport is a strategic priority for Beijing and may get support as President Xi Jinping tries to reboot the economy. BloombergNEF expects battery demand to grow somewhere between 6 percent and 15 percent this year, down from an earlier forecast for a 19 percent expansion, it said last month.
Guoxuan is a modest rival to Chinese battery giants Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. and BYD Co. Those two have a combined 68 percent market share, compared with 5 percent for Guoxuan, according to BloombergNEF.
Aside from the recent crisis, challenges for the industry include reduced subsidies for EVs and keeping up with advances in battery technology, Li said March 6. “The industry also requires higher capital expenditure, which further spurs consolidation and intensifies concentration among the top players.”
Li’s firm can become a top 5 global battery supplier, he said, and aims to expand capacity nearly fivefold to 100 gigawatt hours to feed expansion both within China and overseas. CATL has 55 GWh of capacity.
The battery maker is in talks with four to five international carmakers for potential cooperation on batteries, Steven Cai, head of Gotion High Tech Engineering R&D, a department of Guoxuan, said in the same interview. Guoxuan held wide-ranging discussions with Volkswagen Group as the German car giant looks to expand its EV fleet, it said in January.
Also from the interview:
- There’s “a lot of room” for cheaper batteries known as LFP to grow, Li said. Carmakers are shifting back to LFP against a backdrop of easing subsidies and fierce competition in the market. Guoxuan says it is the second-biggest supplier of LFP units, which contain no cobalt or nickel, in China.
- Guoxuan is seeking to raise the energy density of LFP batteries at the module level and boost their range.
- Cobalt is a critical material given a possible global shortage in coming years. The firm has a joint venture with BYD and Metallurgical Corp. of China to secure nickel and cobalt, and is seeking stable supply of lithium to lower battery costs.
- Guoxuan considers the energy storage business an area of opportunity.