China’s Goal to Power Electric Cars Advances

China’s Goal to Power Electric Cars Advances
AP Photo/Dake Kang

China's grand designs to dominate the future of clean energy paid off spectacularly this week.

In a public offering on June 11 in Shenzhen, battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) raised nearly $1 billion to fund ambitious expansion plans, and its stock has been shooting up every day since. Thanks largely to the company's new plants, China will be making 70 percent of the world's electric-vehicle batteries by 2021, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

The rapid rise of CATL is arguably the clearest, though certainly not the only, payoff from China's calculated efforts to bolster its domestic battery and electric-vehicle industries—two of the most promising sectors in clean energy. These efforts have largely followed the same playbook China used to get ahead in solar panels, including highly automated manufacturing; aggressive efforts to lock in global supply chains; foreign acquisitions and licensing; and hefty doses of government support and protectionism.

China is already the world's largest car market, but its domestic businesses sell only a small fraction of vehicles and components globally. “China sees EVs as the way to assert their global dominance in automotive,” says Venkat Viswanathan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, whose work focuses on batteries. “To make it work you need scale, and they do scale better than anyone else.”

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