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The rise and precarious reign of China’s battery king

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Zeng Yuqun, chairman of Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL), poses for a photograph in Ningde, Fujian province, China, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Enlarge / Zeng Yuqun, chairman of Modern Amperex Expertise Co. (CATL), poses for {a photograph} in Ningde, Fujian province, China, on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

The headquarters of battery large CATL tower over the coastal Chinese language metropolis of Ningde. To the untrained eye, the constructing resembles an enormous slide rising out of the city sprawl. It’s, in reality, an enormous monument to the corporate’s raison d’être: the lithium-ion battery pack.

You could have by no means heard of CATL, however you’ve undoubtedly heard of the manufacturers that depend on its batteries. The corporate provides greater than 30 percent of the world’s EV batteries and counts Tesla, Kia, and BMW amongst its purchasers. Its founder and chairman, 54-year-old Zeng Yuqun, also referred to as Robin Zeng, has quickly emerged because the business’s kingmaker. Insiders describe Zeng as savvy, direct, and even abrasive. Underneath his management, CATL’s valuation has ballooned to 1.2 trillion Chinese language yuan ($179 billion), greater than Common Motors and Ford mixed. A part of that fortune is constructed on proudly owning stakes in mining tasks in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indonesia, giving CATL a tighter grip on an already strained world battery provide chain.

Such scale offers CATL large affect—and permits the corporate to be choosy with its contracts and push the rising costs of uncooked supplies onto its clients. “They’re just about dictating the phrases,” says Mark Greeven, professor of innovation and technique at IMD Enterprise College in Lausanne, Switzerland. CATL pushes purchasers for long-term, five-year offers. and it’s reluctant to customise its batteries for various carmakers, he provides.

To date, these choices have helped make Zeng wealthy—very wealthy. He ranks twenty ninth on Forbes’ 2022 record of the world’s wealthiest folks. On Bloomberg’s 2021 record of the world’s high green billionaires, he’s second solely to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Musk may make extra headlines, however Zeng holds virtually as a lot energy.

However Zeng shouldn’t be Musk. He dodges the limelight and barely offers interviews. Insiders level out that Zeng is working in an atmosphere the place notoriety may hinder, not assist, his enterprise. “Within the West, the personality-cult model of management is one thing that’s valued, inspired, and celebrated. In China, it is harmful,” says Invoice Russo, former head of carmaker Chrysler’s northeast Asia enterprise in Beijing who now runs the Shanghai-based advisory agency Automobility. “You’ll be able to’t be greater than Beijing.” Carmakers are additionally changing into cautious of how a lot energy CATL has as they search elsewhere for batteries to energy their autos.

China dominates EV battery supply
Enlarge / China dominates EV battery provide

Ars Technica

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