Million-mile battery is ready to go, Chinese battery maker CATL says

Jonathon Ramsey



The "million-mile battery" is one of three grails thought necessary to power widespread adoption of electric vehicles, along with getting more range from a single charge and building out charging infrastructure. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been making noises about a million-mile battery for a few months now, and GM EVP Doug Parks said GM teams are working on the matter and they're "almost there."  Now, in an interview with Bloomberg, CATL CEO Zeng Yuqun made clear the hunt for that first grail is over, telling the outlet, "If someone places an order, we are ready to produce" a battery that lasts for 16 years and can power a vehicle for 2 million kilometers, or 1.24 million miles. The additional cost is 10% over the batteries CATL already makes.      

Nine-year-old battery maker Comtemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) is the world's largest EV battery maker and already supplies a cartel of OEMs including Daimler, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen. In May last year, Volvo signed a multi-billion-dollar deal with CATL, and the Chinese firm is building a factory in Erfurt, Germany, to provide BMW with 70% of the automaker's battery needs.

Yuqun didn't reveal any orders for the new cells. His company has a two-year contract to supply Tesla starting this month, those packs expected to be headed for the Chinese-built Model 3. Based on a Reuters report from May of this year, the CATL units are thought to be the same ones Tesla has been working on and will show at the automaker's Battery Day. Reuters characterized the collaboration as a joint development between Tesla and CATL that "deploys technology developed by Tesla in collaboration with a team of academic battery experts recruited by Elon Musk." The academic team is suspected to be the one led by Jeff Dahn at Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The million-mile battery technology is separate from another CATL initiative that Tesla is reported to also take advantage of, being cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate batteries that cut pack cost to $80/kWh. 

As research firm Canalys put it, Yuqun's metrics are "significant but difficult to verify." But if the battery works as advertised, and barring major hurdles to adoption, efficiency, and usable longevity, it could rewrite how we engage with electric vehicles long-term. The mileage claim is more than eight times longer than the lengthiest battery warranty we know of, more than six times longer than the service mileage estimate for today's packs, and a 16-year lifespan means the pack will greatly outlive almost all the cars it first gets installed in. The longevity would blow open the used EV market for the original vehicles, and expand possibilities by being able to install packs in another vehicle after the first is unfit.

And then there are opportunities beyond cars, which Tesla is said to be working on. The CATL packs are rated for 20 years of use in energy products like storage or power arrays. Reuters claimed via sources familiar with Tesla's plans, "With a global fleet of more than 1 million electric vehicles that are capable of connecting to and sharing power with the grid, Tesla’s goal is to achieve the status of a power company, competing with such traditional energy providers as Pacific Gas & Electric."

Tesla Battery Day was meant to happen in May but got pushed back to a date that hasn't been announced yet. When it happens, we'll get a better idea of what we're dealing with.

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