The world’s largest battery maker doesn’t need Ford Motor Co. or Tesla Inc. It’s the US — and global — carmakers, desperate to go electric quickly, that need the Chinese behemoth. In recent months, news that Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, will make its way to American soil with partners like Ford and Tesla has rustled feathers. The increasing number of automakers turning to the one Chinese firm that has dominated the market for years raises a broader question: How did a single company manage to position itself as such a critical cog, with the world so deeply dependent on it?
Even though few are willing to outwardly accept this reality, CATL’s strong hold comes from more than just size. Its batteries are in Teslas, Mercedes and many other electric vehicles. The Fujian-based firm has backed realistic technology, carved out targeted partnerships and tapped viable markets for production at ever-lower prices. The ways it scaled products and manufacturing facilities are key: licensing intellectual property and taking minority stakes. Where possible, CATL has built huge factories and invested in raw material mines to keep a tight grip on supplies. The firm has gone deeper into the value chain and backed small EV companies, too.