BYD Launches New Blade Battery, Aims at Regaining EV and Power System Markets
COVID-19 and China
Tang sedan. Image credit: BYD website.

► The ‘Blade Battery’ is claimed to be ultra-safe, compared with ternary batteries.
BYD is expecting to overtake the current EV and battery dominators by launching this product.

On May 1, the opening ceremony of the 2020 Jinshan Shopping Festival was held in Jinshan District, Shanghai. At the event, the first batch of four BYD K8S pure electric double-decker buses was officially launched, and they were put into operation in Jinshan District as tourist transports. Adding to BYD’s achievement is that this is also the first purely EV fleet introduced in Shanghai. However, BYD is also facing some unprecedented challenges.

On April 21, BYD's 2019 financial statements showed that its annual revenue had reached CNY127.74 billion, a decrease of 1.78% year-on-year; the net profit attributable to shareholders of listed companies dropped 41.93% year-on-year to CNY 1.615 billion, which was the lowest number during the past five years.

BYD has been known as the world's largest EV (Electric Vehicle) company. Their range comprises not just passenger vehicles but e-buses, e-trucks and power systems. The company is in fact strongly vertically integrated and a leader in two of the strongest growth sectors, battery manufacturing and energy storage.

The battery division has been BYD’s strongest arm for a long time, and BYD had scheduled to spin off its auto battery arm as an independent listed company around 2022. However, the new rising star, CATL has taken away the crown and become the biggest EV battery supplier around the world.

SNE Research data also showed that 5.5 gigawatt-hours’ (GWh) worth of LG Chem's EV batteries was used in the first quarter, compared with 2.5 GWh from a year earlier. China's CATL was the No. 3 player in the first quarter with a 17.4% market share, down from 23.4% from a year earlier, while BYD ranked at No. 6 with a 4.9% market share. Not only the battery, as an OEM, Tesla surpassed BYD and became the number one NEV (new energy vehicles) seller in 2019.

Will ‘Blade battery + Han’ regain the stake?

1. Blade battery is claimed to be ultra-safe

Facing unprecedented challenges, BYD has launched its new generation of battery, the lithium iron phosphate blade battery. The company has claimed that it will be ultra-safe compared with ternary batteries. This battery will debut in its high-end electric model, the Han.

To improve safety, BYD changed the conventional prismatic LFP cells into thinner and longer cells, which were designed to become structural parts (beams) of the pack. That simplifies the pack design, and increase the efficiency from 40% to 60% by skipping the module. In simple words, the new blade battery approach – cell-to-pack (CTP) technology – will enable higher energy density in the same limited space and accordingly will lead to a longer E-range.

According to data from the China Automotive Power Battery Industry Innovation Alliance, in 2019, the cumulative installed capacity of domestic power batteries was 62.2GWh, a year-on-year increase of 9.2%. Among them, the installed capacity of ternary batteries was 40.5GWh, up 22.5% year-on-year; the installed capacity of lithium iron phosphate batteries was 20.2GWh, down 9.0% year-on-year. CATL, the representative company of ternary batteries, has overtaken BYD, and become the ‘battery king,’ focusing on lithium iron phosphate since 2017. However, in terms of service life, safety and stability, the ternary lithium batteries are not as good as lithium iron phosphate batteries.

"In the past few years, due to the uneven technology and quality control of different companies in the battery industry, coupled with the characteristics of ternary materials, the spontaneous combustion and even deflagration of electric vehicles have increased significantly. There is no doubt that the security issue is exposed.” Wang Chuanfu, the founder of BYD pointed out.

The test video played at the BYD conference showed that when an ‘acupuncture’ experiment was performed, the ternary lithium battery exploded and violently burned; the ordinary lithium iron phosphate block battery produced a lot of smoke, but the blade battery neither burned nor produced thick smoke, the surface temperature remaining below 60 degrees. Wang Chuanfu emphasized: "New energy vehicles equipped with blade batteries will completely erase the term 'spontaneous combustion' from the dictionary."

The Han EV equipped with a blade battery has an NEDC E-range of up to 605 km, far exceeding the 445 km of the domestic upgraded version of Tesla Model 3, which uses a ternary lithium battery. It is close to the long-life version of the domestic Tesla Model 3 rear-drive with an E-range of 668 km.
However, it is clear that the introduction of blade batteries is only the first move for BYD to regain the power battery battle. This former "battery leader" has a longer-term strategic plan in the field of power batteries.

2. Openness is a must

As mentioned, BYD is scheduled to spin off its auto battery arm, and recently announced the establishment of five subsidiaries, in a bid to speed up the sale of NEV-related core components. The five subsidiaries focus on different products and technologies. Of those, Fudi Battery, which was registered on May 5, 2019, is the offspring of BYD Lithium Battery which was born in 1998. It is speculated that it is likely to be a stepping stone for the spin-off of BYD's power battery business.

Looking back on the competition between BYD and the Ningde era in recent years, the reason CATL could surpass BYD in power batteries is not only related to betting on the right track but also to its having a completely different opening strategy from the self-sufficient BYD.

The openness of CATL has led to it having more and more customers and partners, taking much of BYD's market share. According to CATL, in 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced an effective catalog of more than 4,600 models of NEVs, of which more than 1,900 are equipped with CATL's batteries, accounting for about 41.5%.

After BYD gradually opened up the sales of power batteries in 2017, although it has established cooperative relations with automakers such as Changan Automobile, Dongfeng Automobile, compared with CATL, it is still difficult to count on the number of external customers. The establishment of the FudiBattery means that BYD has reached a new level, going from self-sufficiency to open sharing.

In addition to CATL, BYD will also face competition from foreign rivals. Power battery international giants such as Panasonic, LG Chem, Samsung SDI and SKI are actively returning to the Chinese market. In the field of new energy vehicles, in addition to Tesla, new energy vehicle brands and new energy vehicle brands under traditional car companies are bound to diversify their products and market share.

The introduction of the blade battery and the establishment of the Verdi system have worked as a prelude to the independent listing of BYD's power battery division, and also revealed the dilemma of the veteran market leader. Under fierce competition, BYD has had to compromise and speed up the pace of opening up.

Editor: Luke Sheehan

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