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Anjani Trivedi

How China's Car Batteries Conquered the World

Beijing’s calculated approach to manufacturing electric-vehicle power packs has the U.S., the European Union and other rivals playing catch-up in the race to lead the electric future.

The next arms race.

The next arms race.

Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg
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When General Motors Co.’s $27 billion EV program went up in flames in August, it also singed EV enthusiasts’ high hopes for a new generation of long-lasting batteries that could take cars farther while keeping costs low. The storied American car company was forced to recall the 140,000 electric Chevy Bolts made since 2017. Turns out that the car’s expensive nickel-cobalt-manganese batteries, which promised a range of more than 250 miles and greater energy density, carried the risk of catching fire. The company has since said it’s found a fix, with the recall’s $1.8 billion cost to be mostly covered by the battery’s maker, South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd.

You can’t blame GM for trying. Driven by a blinding urge to be market leaders as they invest billions of dollars to meet tough emissions regulations, GM and many of its peers have found themselves backing unproven technologies. Countries, in turn, are caught in an arms race to lead the world’s electric future.