China is kicking America’s ass in the EV battery race, which is causing significant damage to the domestic battery sector. This trend will likely result in companies like GM and Ford losing their international status. It’s going to define the 21st century.
In recent years, the relationship between the US and China — the world’s economic superpowers — has devolved into an unwieldy tug-of-war between economic interdependence and deep-seated distrust. On one hand, diplomats are trying furiously to maintain a stable world and keep money flowing between the two countries. But at the same time, one of the relationship’s most salient features is that it is a contest for control over the technology that will define the 21st century.
In the latter battle there is one area where the US has fallen woefully behind: batteries. China’s state-supported enterprises — let’s call them China Inc. — dominate in every aspect of the development of batteries for electric vehicles, from the mining and refining of raw materials to the manufacture of the batteries themselves.
“The danger is that we won’t have a domestic battery sector and we will totally in perpetuity rely on China to build cells for us,” Tu Le, the founder of the consultancy Sino Auto Insights, told me. And without cheap batteries to power fleets of cheap electric vehicles, he argued, companies like GM and Ford “run the risk of becoming regional players and losing their international status.”
Until US automakers can source batteries domestically, or from friendly nations, they will depend on maintaining good relations with Beijing. It is an increasingly fraught partnership, even setting geopolitics aside. For the past 40 years China needed foreign automakers to help develop its own car industry through joint ventures. But as China’s domestic electric-vehicle market takes off, the tables have turned. Beijing is boosting its homegrown products, and foreign automakers — which already need China Inc.’s batteries to build more EVs — are losing market share.
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The winner of the battery war will not only control the electric-vehicle market but also produce thousands of jobs, control the future of mobility, and dictate the West’s ability to transition to greener forms of energy.
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