How a Chinese battery-maker emerged as Tesla slayer

How a Chinese battery-maker emerged as Tesla slayer



China’s BYD was a battery manufacturer trying its hand at building cars when it showed off its newest model in 2007. American executives at the Guangzhou auto show gaped at the car’s uneven paint job and the poor fit of its doors. “They were the laughingstock of the industry,” said Michael Dunne, a China auto industry analyst. Nobody is laughing at BYD now.
The company passed Tesla in worldwide sales of fully electric cars late last year.BYD is building assembly lines in Brazil, Hungary, Thailand and Uzbekistan and preparing to do so in Indonesia and Mexico. It is expanding exports to Europe, and its sales, over 80% of them in China, have grown by about 1 million cars in each of the past two years. The last automaker to accomplish that in even one year in the American market was General Motors – and that was in 1946, after GM suspended passenger car sales during the four preceding years because of World War II.
Based in Shenzhen, the hub of China’s electronics industry, BYD has shown how Chinese carmakers can tap the country’s dominance of electrical products. BYD is leading China’s export push in electric cars, and is rapidly building the world’s largest car carrier ships to transport them. The first of the ships, the BYD Explorer No. 1, is on its maiden voyage from Shenzhen with 5,000 electric cars, and is expected to arrive in the Netherlands by Feb 21.
With China’s and BYD’s success has come more scrutiny. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, warned about the strength of Chinese electric car exports in a company earnings call in January. “Frankly, I think if there are not trade barriers established, they will pretty much demolish most other companies in the world,” he said.
BYD’s chair, Wang Chuanfu, founded the company in 1995 to make batteries for consumer electronics companies. In 2003, BYD bought a factory in Xi’an that was building gasoline-powered cars. But the company had trouble at the start, gaining an early reputation for building clunkers. In a visit to the factory in 2006, a large repair area at the end of the assembly line was clogged with newly built cars that already needed more work.
BYD’s sales grew as the Chinese market soared. In 2008, Wang announced plans to export electric cars to the US but had to scotch the plan because at the time they cost a lot to build and had limited range.
By 2012, car production in China had caught up with demand. Buyers became choosier. BYD’s car sales and stock price plunged as multinationals offered more stylish models. In 2016, he hired Wolfgang Egger, a prominent Audi designer, who in turn hired hundreds more car engineers with bold tastes. They completely redesigned BYD’s models.
Wang replaced the standard expensive chemicals in rechargeable lithium batteries – nickel, cobalt and manganese – with cheaper iron and phosphate. But they ran out of juice quickly and had to be recharged after even short trips.
In 2020, BYD introduced its Blade batteries, which closed most of the so-called range gap with nickel-cobalt batteries at a fraction of what they cost. Tesla began making and selling cars in China the same year, and enthusiasm for electric cars swept the nation. BYD still sells mostly cheaper cars with lower range, while Tesla sells costlier cars with more range.





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