Overpromising, Underdelivering: Can BYD Fulfil Its Claim of an Advanced EV Battery?
Selling a dream is not uncommon among Chinese EV and battery producers. This time BYD claims to have developed a new EV battery that resists fire while maintaining range capacity.
No company has benefited more from China’s emphasis on new energy vehicles than Build Your Dream Company Limited (BYD) – the Shenzhen based manufacturer of automobiles, buses, trucks, forklifts and rechargeable batteries.
BYD was founded in 1995 by entrepreneur Wang Chuanfu with USD 300,000 raised from friends and family. It started out by making batteries for cellphones and transformed the business into producing EV batteries for all kinds of vehicles. The company’s shares are now listed in Hong Kong (1211:HKEX) and Shenzhen (002594: SZEX), and the company boasts a market valuation of HKD 152.733 billion (around USD 18.5 billion).
BYD grew with the subsidies provided by the Chinese government to manufacturers of all electric vehicles (EV), as well as subsidies of up to USD 10,000 per vehicle to EV buyers. According to Quartz's research, BYD received around USD 1 billion in subsidies in 2016. In 2018, BYD broke sales records for five months straight and became the second-largest manufacturer of EVs in China, with close to 30,000 units sold in December.
Nowadays, however, the company is struggling to maintain this success. Earlier this year, BYD reported a 52 percent drop in its annual earnings. EV sales in China are falling for a third year in a row as the coronavirus outbreak exacerbates a slump kicked off by a slowing economy, trade tensions, reductions in EV subsidies and stricter emission regulations.
To combat the slump and widen its revenue sources, BYD turned to solve the basic problems of the industry: technology to improve EV battery safety and provide higher energy-density and to deliver longer driving range.
Last week, the company officially announced the launch of the ‘Blade Battery’ – a design that it claims has 50 percent higher energy density than conventional battery packs while safeguarding against thermal runaway-induced fires that have plagued some EVs.
The new battery uses a lithium iron phosphate chemistry but does away with conventional battery-pack architecture. It will feature in the new Han EV, the brand’s flagship sedan that is scheduled to launch in June and is said to deliver nearly 376 miles in driving range to go with a 3.9-second 0-62 mph launch time.
In a 51-minute online launching event named ‘The Super Launch,’ delivered on a stage that resembles a ‘Star Wars’ set, He Long – Vice President of BYD Co. Ltd. and chairman of FinDreams Battery Co. Ltd – said that “Lithium iron phosphate has a very stable chemical structure that resists catching fire, heats up slowly, limits heat release during a collision and releases no oxygen, which is highly conducive to feeding fires.”
Moreover, this week, the company announced that it would also start offering this battery technology and a full suite of EV components to rivals and aspiring auto manufacturers. Thus, it aims to increase revenues by expanding beyond selling cars to selling technology.
However, market watchers are skeptical about the new battery – Chinese automakers have a long track record of overpromising and underdelivering. But BYD might yet surprise, as the company has been engaging with battery technologies for a long time.