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EV batteries

SK Innovation opens 2nd China battery plant, eyes world’s top 3 spot

Nov 25, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

An SK Innovation official outlines the company's EV battery offerings at an expo in Seoul.

SK Innovation Co. has begun operating its second electric vehicle battery plant in China as the South Korean company expands its presence in the world’s largest electric car market.

As part of its plan to expand globally, SK Innovation may also establish a battery joint venture with German automaker Volkswagen in the US, according to industry sources on Nov. 25.

Sources said the Korean company recently completed the construction of its second China plant located in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province.

The 1.7 trillion won ($1.5 billion) plant will add 10 GWh in annual production capacity that can run 200,000 electric vehicles. The new factory is SK Innovation’s second battery cell plant in the country following its 7.5 GWh Changzhou plant, which opened in December 2019.

SK Innovation didn’t reveal the names of its clients to be supplied from the latest plant, but industry officials expect the factory to initially supply batteries to Dongfeng Yueda Kia Motor Co., which is located in Yancheng. The automaker is a joint venture between Korea’s Kia Motors Corp. and China’s Dongfeng Motor Corp.

Researchers at SK Innovation

With its new battery plant in Yancheng, SK Innovation’s total production capacity will rise to 30 GWh, a fivefold increase from last year and close to its bigger crosstown rival Samsung SDI Co., which has an annual capacity of 33 GWh.

In 2021, SK plans to expand its output capacity at the Yancheng plant by building another 10 GWh production line.

Once its 21.5 GWh US plant and the 9.8 GWh Hungary factory are completed by 2022, the company’s total output capacity will rise to 85 GWh by 2023, surpassing the 73 GWh capacity of Panasonic Corp., the world’s third-largest EV battery maker.

EYES BATTERY JV WITH VOLKSWAGEN FOR US EXPANSION

Industry officials said SK Innovation may launch a joint venture with Volkswagen to enhance its presence in the US EV battery market.

SK Innovation has already been named a battery cell supplier for the German automaker’s VW ID.4 electric SUV.

“SK will likely set up joint ventures for US expansion, not just with Volkswagen but also with other global automakers,” said a battery industry official.

An SK Innovation official said it is reviewing the possibility of aggressively expanding its output capacity in the US, with the expected rise in demand for EV batteries under the Joe Biden presidency.

A latecomer to the global battery market, SK Innovation is growing at a rapid pace. After joining the global top ten battery makers for the first time last year, it rose to sixth place in September of this year.

Graphics by Jerry Lee

According to market research firm SNE Research, SK ranks sixth with 4.4% global market share as of the end of September. Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. is the market leader with its 24.6% share, followed by China’s CATL (23.7%), Panasonic (19.5%) and Samsung SDI (6.2%).

LEGAL BATTLE WITH LG CHEM REMAINS A VARIABLE

SK Innovation’s aggressive business expansion plan in the US may hinge on the outcome of a legal battle with LG Chem.

The two Korean battery rivals have been in legal wranglings since April 2019, after LG filed a pair of lawsuits with the US International Trade Commission (USITC) and a US court against SK for allegedly stealing battery technology through employee poaching. A final ITC ruling is expected on Dec. 10.

If the ITC rules in favor of LG Chem, SK Innovation will likely be banned from importing battery-related components into the US, making it difficult to run its operations at the Georgia plant.

FORAY INTO CHINA

Korean battery makers have been making an aggressive foray into the rapidly growing Chinese EV market.

Last week, industry sources said LG Chem will supply batteries to US electric vehicle giant Tesla Inc. for its latest mid-size SUV Model Y, to be manufactured in China next year.

LG Chem has been chosen as the sole supplier for the luxury SUV model, beating strong contenders such as China’s CATL and Japan’s Panasonic, according to the sources.

Write to Man-Su Choe at bebop@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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