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Volkswagen facilitates 20 Chinese battery makers to increase capabilities

 – Alysha Webb

Volkswagen is very optimistic about the abilities of China’s battery manufacturers, more optimistic than I am.  I think China’s battery manufacturers have a long way to go before they can produce batteries that meet the stringent demands of an electric vehicle for the global market.  But they are getting help from foreign automakers and suppliers, which may at least speed up their advancement.

Dr. Tobias Giebel, head of the Volkswagen Research Lab in Shanghai was a speaker at the EV Battery Forum I attended in Shanghai in early November. He said Volkswagen is working closely with about 20 of China’s more than 100 domestic battery producers, helping those companies bring their products up to international standards. When that happens, Volkswagen will source batteries from them for use in its global operations, said Giebel. 

“The supplier in China will need some time to catch up with the high level vehicle traction battery products in Japan and Korea,” said Giebel. “But they are on their way, and we are observing in these days the first successes of the Chinese suppliers.” 
He didn’t define was would be considered a success.  But Giebel did say that Volkswagen anticipated being able to source some batteries from China in “a couple of years.” 

“We believe the future of battery cell sourcing is in China,” he said.

A battery consists of more than just cells. Those cells have to be put together and packaged to form the completed battery.  And that is where Dr. Wang Ying, deputy CTO of Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems Co., sees a weakness in China’s domestic manufacturers.  Shanghai Advanced Traction Battery Systems is a joint venture between A123 of Massachusetts and SAIC.  “Battery suppliers in China don’t really know vehicles,” said Dr. Wang, who was a speaker at the Forum. 

Chinese battery manufacturers have problems with the packaging of a battery for an electric vehicle, she said without elaborating.  “It may take a while for them to filter and understand what the right direction is,” said Wang.

China’s battery manufacturers can make a perfectly good lithium ion battery for a mobile phone. But the stresses on a mobile phone battery are much less than those on an electric vehicle battery.  Faulty packaging rather than a faulty cell caused the flaming electric taxi problem in Hangzhou, after all.
Some battery companies in China are getting help. Volkswagen is working with those 20-unnamed companies. General Motors is also working with Chinese companies to develop an electric vehicle supply base in China, including batteries, Ray Bierzynski, director of electrification strategy for GM China, told me at the Forum.

Then there are the battery joint ventures, such as Ener1’s venture with Wanxiang.  Indeed, one thing Wanxiang wanted access to was Ener1’s packaging technology, Ener1 CFO Jeff Seidel told me. Another American battery manufacturer, Boston Power is using Chinese investment to move its battery operations to China.

Nonetheless, I have watched China’s other automotive suppliers for years work with foreign partners, and few have yet mastered the most technically-advanced components. Still fewer can supply complete systems.

I think it will take more than just a few years before China’s domestic battery manufacturers will be able to produce an entire battery system—not just a cell—that meets global standards. I guess Volkswagen’s Giebel would disagree.

 Reprinted from the writer’s article on blog.163.com

 

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