The Rise and Precarious Rule of China’s Battery King

in great shape , Contemporary Amperex Technology Company (CATL) Chairman Zeng Yukun poses for a photograph in Ningde, Fujian Province, China, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Battery giant CATL Tower is headquartered above the coastal Chinese city of Ningde. To the untrained eye, the building resembles a giant slide emerging from an urban sprawl. In fact, it’s a giant monument to the company’s Ryzen d’tre: a lithium-ion battery pack.

You may have never heard of CATL, but you have certainly heard of brands that rely on its batteries. The company supplies more than 30 percent of the world’s EV batteries and counts Tesla, Kia and BMW among its customers. Its founder and chairman, 54-year-old Zeng Yukun, also known as Robin Zeng, has rapidly emerged as the industry’s kingmaker. Insiders describe Zeng as understated, direct, and even abrasive. Under his leadership, CATL’s valuation grew to 1.2 trillion Chinese yuan ($179 billion), more than the combined value of General Motors and Ford. Part of that fortune has been built at stake in mining projects in China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia, giving CATL a tighter grip on an already tense global battery supply chain.

Such a scale gives CATL a lot of influence — and allows the company to choose with its contracts and push rising raw material prices onto its customers. “They are setting the terms quite a bit,” says Mark Greven, professor of innovation and strategy at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. CATL lures customers into long-term, five-year deals. And it is reluctant for different car manufacturers to optimize their batteries, he adds.

So far, these decisions have helped make Zeng rich—very rich. He is ranked 29th in Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people for 2022. In Bloomberg’s list of the world’s top green billionaires for 2021, he is second only to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk may grab more headlines, but Zeng has almost as much power.

But Zeng Musk is not. He shuns limelight and rarely gives interviews. Insiders say that Zeng is operating in an environment where notoriety can hinder his business, can’t help. “In the West, the personality-cult style of leadership is something that is valued, encouraged and celebrated. In China, it is dangerous,” said Bill Russo, former head of carmaker Chrysler’s Northeast Asia business in Beijing. Says, who now runs Shanghai-based consulting firm Automobility. “You can’t be bigger than Beijing.” Carmakers are also becoming wary of how much power CATL has as they move their vehicles elsewhere. Search battery.

China dominates EV battery supply
in great shape , China dominates EV battery supply

Ars Technica

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