Now is the critical moment before Tesla’s 4680 battery is popularized, and the company seems to be seeking Chinese and Korean companies to help them make better and cheaper batteries.
Reuters, citing people familiar with the plan, said Tesla had tapped China’s Ningbo Rongbai New Energy and Suzhou Dongshan Precision Manufacturing to help cut material costs and eventually ramped up production of the 4680 cells in the United States.
According to public information, Ningbo Rongbai New Energy Technology Co., Ltd. (referred to as “Rongbai Technology / Lithium Battery”) is a high-tech new energy material enterprise controlled by Beijing Rongbai Investment Holdings Co., Ltd. A multinational group company with research and development and operation, jointly built by two Chinese and Korean teams with more than 20 years of successful entrepreneurial experience in the lithium battery cathode material industry; and Suzhou Dongshan Precision Manufacturing Co., Ltd. is mainly for communication equipment, new energy, precision Customers in industries such as machine tool manufacturing provide precision sheet metal parts, precision castings and assembly products and technical services, among which precision sheet metal parts are the company’s leading products.
Reuters stated that if Tesla can solve the 4680 battery performance and process problems and successfully expand production capacity, the company will have the opportunity to fulfill Elon Musk’s dream of “producing 20 million cars a year”.
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As part of its efforts, Tesla also signed a deal with South Korea’s L&F Co to supply high-nickel cathodes, which could help Tesla increase the energy density of its 4680 batteries, one of the sources told Reuters.
The automaker aims to boost its own production with South Korea’s LG New Energy and Japan’s Panasonic’s 4680 cells, an insurance policy to secure future EV production, two sources said. LG and Panasonic are expected to supply batteries for the Cybertruck electric pickup, one of the sources said.
Panasonic is trial-running the 4680 production line at its Wakayama plant in Japan and plans to start mass production later in this fiscal year (ends March 2024). Panasonic Energy Chief Technology Officer Shoichiro Watanabe said last month that the company’s new Kansas battery plant will initially focus on 2170 cells, but will eventually shift production for 4680 cells to North America as well.
Last year, LG said it planned to start a new 4680 production line at its Ochang plant in South Korea in the second half of 2023.
Reuters pointed out that relevant sources said that the first generation of 4680 batteries produced by Tesla’s Fremont factory failed to meet the energy density target. So far, the automaker has been able to dry-coat the “anode-negative electrode,” but it still has problems with dry-coating the cathode.
It is worth mentioning that Elon Musk and Tesla executives have previously stated that Tesla has so far been trying to increase the output of the dry coating process, but can only produce batteries for about 50,000 cars a year. Elon Musk originally said Tesla would have enough 4680 capacity to supply 1.3 million Model Ys by 2022.
Tesla plans to use cathodes with more than 90 percent nickel in its next-generation 4680 batteries, two sources said. L&F is expected to be one of the suppliers of the high-nickel cathode, another source said.