Tesla has said all along it will work with multiple battery suppliers for the electric cars it manufactures in China, beginning with the Model 3 later this year and including the Model Y later. Both cars will use advanced 2170 cells like the ones manufactured for Tesla by Panasonic at Gigafactory 1 in Nevada.
According to Bloomberg, Tesla has agreed to source at least some of those battery cells from LG Chem. The Korean company will manufacture the cells at its production facility in Nanjing, about 200 miles west of Shanghai where Tesla’s new Gigafactory 3 is under construction. Although work on the new factory was not begun until January 3, Tesla expects Model 3 production to begin there before the end of this year.
Bloomberg adds that Tesla is still in talks with CATL. Anonymous sources say the two companies are discussing technical specifications and that LG Chem was more flexible in meeting Tesla’s technology requirements. There are also rumors that Panasonic may be in the mix somewhere down the road. Representatives for Tesla, LG Chem, and CATL all declined to speak on the record with Bloomberg. LG Chem is now the world’s second largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries and intent on further increasing its market share.
Politics & Production
Tesla is wise not to put all its battery eggs in one basket in China, where politics have an outsized impact on commerce. Two years ago, China refused to allow Hyundai and Kia to import any cars with batteries made by LG Chem in South Korea, according to Business Korea. It was only after the companies agreed to power their electric cars with battery cells manufactured by CATL that the ban was lifted, according to the report.
Because of the need to switch suppliers, the Hyundai Kona Electric is only now becoming available in China. And the move by Chinese authorities was no doubt instrumental in LG Chem’s decision to build a battery factory in China.
Why would authorities slap Hyundai and Kia around while smiling benevolently on Tesla? President Xi Jinping does not return our phone calls, so we can’t be sure, but clearly Tesla enjoys some special status with the Chinese government. For whatever reasons, no other foreign manufacturer seems to enjoy such a close relationship.
The Trouble With Tariffs
As Donald Trump and Xi Jinping play “mine’s bigger than yours” in their ongoing tariff fight, China announced today it will reimpose a 25% tariff on cars imported from the US on December 15. According to CNBC, the new tariffs will impact Mercedes and BMW the most. Both German companies export US-made cars to China. Ford will also suffer, as will Tesla with regard to its Model S and Model X vehicles, which are manufactured exclusively at the factory in Fremont, California.
In response, the unstable lunatic in Washington, DC, sent the stock market into a selling panic by tweeting an “order” for all US companies to cease doing business in China forthwith. The Dow shed 600 points as soon as the tweet appeared.
The question now for Tesla is how will the new tariffs affect the cars built in the Chinese factory in Shanghai beginning later this year? According to CNET Road Show, the first cars will be knockdown kits made in Fremont and shipped to Shanghai for final assembly. Tesla does something similar with its factory in Tilburg in the Netherlands.
No one knows the answer to that question at the moment. Is a knockdown kit assembled in Shanghai subject to the new tariff? It’s simply too early to answer that question authoritatively. Given Tesla’s special relationship with the Chinese government, we can only hope the cars exiting Gigafactory 3 will be exempt from the new tariff. It is to be hoped the business community will give the puling potentate of Pennsylvania Avenue the fickle finger of fate and ignore his insane order completely.
What Do We Know?
We know that Model 3 cars will begin rolling out the door at Gigafactory 3 before the end of this year, God willing and the creek don’t rise, and that those cars will have battery cells manufactured in Nanjing by LG Chem. We know that battery cells from CATL or Panasonic might be used in locally produced Model 3s and upcoming Model Ys at some point in the future. And we know that the tariff situation is a muddled mess at the moment. When we know more, you’ll know more.