How CATL Became the Biggest EV Battery Producer in the World
A little more than a decade ago, CATL didn't exist. Today, the Chinese company makes 37% of the world’s EV batteries.
Most people have never heard of one of the most important clean energy companies: CATL.
Located in a small Chinese city, Ningde, the company’s headquarters are 90 minutes away from the nearest major airport. For a short period in the 1980s, when Ningde was still a small fishing village, China’s current president Xi Jinping worked there as a Communist Party chief. It was a punishment, a relegation after his father refused to support a crackdown against a liberal reformer. Before CATL, Ningde was best known for its tea plantations and carp farms.
Today, Ningde is home to a company poised to play a central role in the energy transition. In the first half of 2023, CATL made 37% of all EV batteries globally. According to most forecasts, this number will only grow between now and 2030.
CATL’s rise, like the growth of China’s entire EV supply chain, was far from preordained. When the company launched in 2011, China’s auto industry lagged far behind those in Germany and the United States. Companies in China like CATL were manufacturing products en-masse, but rarely did they make the most advanced products. Most advanced battery research was happening in national labs in the United States. But today, many of the world’s most advanced batteries are being built by Chinese companies like CATL.
So how did a small battery company headquartered in a carp fishing village become the biggest battery producer in the world? That’s the question, I want to explore in today’s story. I’ll cover:
How CATL used their experience making lithium-ion batteries for iPods to create the world’s cheapest EV batteries
Why China’s leadership decided to invest aggressively in EVs around 2008
The various policies that China used to support its EV industry (and hurt those in other countries)
What flying pigs have to do with all of this
Why international automakers and policymakers are so worried about China’s EV dominance