Late exclusive丨Nio will develop a variety of batteries such as 4680, which will be put into small-scale production next year

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“Late Auto” exclusively learned that NIO is developing its own lithium iron manganese phosphate and 4680 batteries, and plans to mass-produce these two batteries for supply to NIO and its sub-brand Alps.

In June this year, Li Bin said in the first quarter earnings conference call that Weilai has formed a battery-related team of more than 400 people and will launch an 800V high-voltage platform battery pack in 2024. “Late Auto” learned that the above-mentioned 800V high-voltage battery is a 4680 battery, which is planned to be installed in the models of Weilai’s third-generation platform (NT3).

The 4680 battery route was first proposed by Tesla and is Tesla’s latest generation of cylindrical battery technology. In the first quarter of this year, Tesla mass-produced the battery at its Texas plant for use in the Model Y. At present, battery companies such as LG New Energy, Panasonic and Yiwei Lithium Energy are also deploying 4680 batteries.

In addition to high-performance 4680 batteries, Weilai is also developing lower-cost lithium manganese iron phosphate batteries. The lithium iron manganese phosphate battery is equivalent to an upgraded version of the lithium iron phosphate battery, which is similar in cost to the latter, but has a 15%-20% higher energy density. CATL announced the production of lithium iron manganese phosphate batteries in July this year, and companies such as Xinwangda and BYD are also developing similar technologies.

A person close to NIO told “Lady Auto” that NIO will also put into production lithium iron manganese phosphate batteries on a small scale to supply NIO’s sub-brand Alps. The brand is positioned in the market range of 200,000-300,000 and is expected to be launched in 2024.

In April last year, Weilai began to build an automobile industrial park Neo Park in the Hefei Economic and Technological Development Zone. It plans to build a vehicle factory with an annual production capacity of 1 million vehicles and a battery factory with an annual production capacity of 100GWh. People close to the project said that Weilai Hefei Battery Factory will be the first to put into production lithium iron manganese phosphate batteries.

In addition to the battery factory in Hefei, NIO has also built a battery trial production line in Shanghai for battery R&D trials and testing. In May this year, the environmental information disclosure platform of Shanghai enterprises and institutions showed that NIO will invest 218 million yuan to build a new R&D project in Shanghai, including 31 laboratories engaged in the research and development of lithium-ion batteries and battery packs, and trial production of one lithium-ion battery. line and 1 battery pack production line.

Manufacturing batteries needs to go through the stages of research and development, small test, pilot test, and mass production. It takes at least one year for a company with mature technology to complete the entire process, and then experience a ramp-up in production capacity for about half a year. The construction time for a battery production line is about 9 months.

Weilai’s R&D and production preparations are carried out simultaneously. NIO Vice President Zeng Shizhe is responsible for battery-related research and development, including battery cells, battery packs, battery materials, and BMS (battery management system) research and development. Reported to Li Bin, founder, chairman and CEO of Weilai.

In addition to research and development, “Late Auto” learned that Weilai has also established a battery industrialization department, which consists of sub-departments such as advanced laboratories, battery equipment technology, and factory digitization. The head of the department, Ning Hailong, was the director of hardware and process engineering for Panasonic in North America. He was in charge of battery engineering at the Nevada Gigafactory, a joint venture between Tesla and Panasonic. He joined Weilai in September 2021.

Ning Hailong is responsible for R&D related to battery industrialization, and Sun Zhenyong is in charge of NIO’s battery manufacturing department (including field equipment, process, quality, etc.), and Ning and Sun report to NIO Senior Vice President Zeng Shuxiang at the same time.

The battery is a major strategic layout of NIO in the next stage. Judging from the current investment, Weilai will gradually move from external supply to self-supply and combination of external supply in terms of battery supply, and finally self-supply, and perhaps external supply.

In terms of research and development, Weilai is testing multiple technical routes at the same time. Before it was completely self-developed, NIO had launched a total of 5 types of batteries: 70KWh, 84KWh, 100KWh ternary lithium batteries provided by CATL, 75 KWh ternary iron lithium batteries developed in cooperation with Ningde, and joint research and development with supplier Weilan 150KWh semi-solid battery.

The latter two batteries are the prelude to NIO’s research. According to people familiar with the matter, Weilai has sent a team of hundreds of people to cooperate with Beijing Weilan for product development.

After self-produced batteries, Weilai will realize the layout of the whole life cycle from battery manufacturing to charging and replacing, and battery recycling, which means that Weilai has the opportunity to benefit from every link of power batteries except raw materials.

But it also means higher risk. Compared with power battery companies, the biggest difficulty of self-produced batteries by car companies is that they are small in scale and cannot effectively reduce costs. At present, the production capacity of CATL, LG New Energy and other manufacturers exceeds 150GWh. Although Weilai has also planned a 100GWh battery production capacity, to make full use of these production capacity, more than 1 million vehicles need to be sold.

The yield and consistency of battery manufacturing are also issues that NIO needs to face. In June of this year, the 4680 battery capacity of Tesla’s Berlin plant was affected by the low yield rate, which affected the production capacity of its OEMs.

However, the above-mentioned people believe that the goal of NIO’s self-produced batteries in the short term may not be self-supply, but to have the right to speak. “When negotiating with the battery factory, you must have an extra card. You can use it, but you can’t do it without it.”

“Late Auto” confirmed the key information of this article with Weilai, and Weilai said it would not comment.

Intern Pan Juntian also contributed to this article.

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