In a sense, CATL is the biggest winner in the new energy era. An undeniable fact is that CATL is the dominant player in both the domestic market and the global market. However, as more and more car companies jointly stage "escape plans", CATL's market voice is also undergoing subtle changes.
Some time ago, CATL released its third quarter report for 2023. Data show that CATLQ3 achieved revenue of 105.431 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 8.28%; net profit attributable to the parent company was 10.428 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 10.66%. If calculated based on the company's Q2 net profit of 10.895 billion yuan in the previous financial report, Q3 net profit fell by 4.28% month-on-month. This is also the first time that Q3 net profit has declined sequentially since CATL was listed.
In September this year, CATL's domestic market share once fell below the 40% mark to 39.41%. This is after CATL fell below the 50% mark for the first time in the first quarter of 2022, it once again lost 40% of its key indicators.
In the capital market, CATL's market value has been declining since it returned to one trillion yuan at the end of June this year. As of the close of trading on November 14, CATL's latest market value was 807.872 billion yuan, a drop of nearly 200 billion yuan, or nearly 20%.
CATL is at odds with car companies
At the power battery industry forum in June this year, CATL Chairman Zeng Yuqun had an argument about the second half of the industry. He believed that the power battery industry has entered a new stage from "is there any" to "is it good or not".
At the beginning of the new stage, the stable structure of the "CATL" family as the dominant family ushered in increasingly fierce challenges and competition. And former allies have also defected.
"The cost of power batteries has accounted for 40%, 50%, 60% of our car (cost), and the price is still rising. So don't I work for CATL now?" At the first World Power Battery Conference last year, GAC Group Chairman Zeng Qinghong pointed directly at CATL.
This contradiction is actually easy to understand. With the brutal growth of the new energy era, CATL's wealth accumulation is snowballing, but most car companies are still struggling on the road of "more sales and more losses". The dividends from the new energy era only enriched one CATL.
Under such a situation, car companies will definitely use various means to untie CATL's voice in the competition in the new energy vehicle market. On the one hand, many car companies have established battery factories with other battery manufacturers through joint ventures and cooperation; on the other hand, car companies have chosen to directly produce their own batteries, and have since embarked on a path of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
It is said that "a battery is half a car". As the energy source of new energy vehicles, the importance of batteries is self-evident. Self-development and self-production are not only expected to establish technical barriers, but more realistically, can effectively avoid the dominance of one battery manufacturer. In this situation, there are problems of shortage of supply and arbitrary pricing.
In fact, many car companies have indeed done this, and have embarked on the road of self-research and production. In the past, from the perspective of upstream and downstream industrial relations, battery companies focused more on the research and development of battery cell performance, and vehicle companies paid more attention to the use of batteries. Now this relationship is being broken by car companies. Their increasing battery production capacity has invisibly given rise to CATL created an encirclement trend.
Now, in the field of power batteries, BYD has already competed with CATL. In the first half of this year, BYD surpassed CATL with a market share of 43.18% in terms of domestic lifepo4 battery installed capacity.
SVOLT, which was born under Great Wall Motors, recently "snatched" nearly 90GWh of battery orders from BMW Europe from CATL. This number is approximately 65 times that of SVOLT’s October loading volume and 5 times that of CATL. At a time when terminal consumer demand for new energy vehicles is slowing down and industry competition is intensifying, SVOLT is equivalent to taking the cake directly from the CATL bowl.
Among the top three car companies in the Chinese market by sales, BYD supplies its own batteries; Tesla, CATL's largest customer, has also begun to equip Model Y with BYD's lifepo4 battery; the GAC mentioned above, before 2021, its Aian (formerly GAC New Energy) is also a loyal fan of CATL. Basically all power batteries come from CATL. But starting in 2021, Aian first supported China New Aviation as its main supplier, and then began to build its own battery production line.
Judging from the current trend, although CATL will still form high barriers and market share in two to three years, as more and more car companies invest in self-developed and self-produced batteries, CATL's voice will will be gradually eroded.
Technical involution of power batteries
In the face of increasingly fierce competition, CATL will naturally not sit still and wait for death.
The first move is to use low prices to stabilize downstream sales and lock in car companies. There is no true love in the world. Since ancient times, low prices have kept people's hearts.
In February this year, CATL launched the "Lithium Mine Rebate" plan: it promised that in the next three years, some lithium carbonate for power batteries will be settled at a price of 200,000 yuan/ton. Car companies that signed this cooperation need to purchase about 80% of the batteries. , committed to CATL.
Although the price of battery-grade lithium carbonate plummeted in the first half of the year, it fell from 525,000 yuan/ton at the beginning of the year to 194,000 yuan/ton. But after June, the price stabilized at around 300,000 yuan/ton. From a planning point of view, CATL's price is very competitive, but on the other hand, it also causes the attenuation of its profits.
In the third quarter of this year, CATL's net profit attributable to its parent company was 10.43 billion yuan, down 4.28% from the 10.89 billion yuan in the second quarter. This is also the first time in recent years that its net profit has declined in a single quarter from the previous quarter. CATL's explanation is that in order to cope with competition, there were some rebates for car company customers on the power battery side in the third quarter, which had an impact on profits.
As we all know, CATL has always been strong and attaches great importance to gross profit margin. The current promotion is not only to stabilize the Iron Throne, but also to win over the leading car companies that have changed their minds. It can be said that in order to maintain quantity, King Ning began to compromise.
If rebates are understood as a short-term promotion plan, then what CATL is really looking forward to is the breakthrough of new technology. No matter what the future trend of the power battery industry is, the core of competition is always at the level of technology research and development. CATL's sudden rise is the result of stepping on the policy trend of ternary lithium. Betting on technological breakthroughs is also in line with Zeng Yuqun's prediction that the power battery industry has entered a new stage of "good or bad".
From an industry perspective, it is not difficult to make an ordinary power battery, but it is not that simple to make a competitive power battery. Because power batteries have extremely high requirements in terms of safety, capacity, charging rate, and durability, shortcomings in any link will have a great impact on the overall performance of the product.
As the power battery competition environment gradually moves from extensive competition to refined competition, some power battery companies with low thresholds and backward technologies have been eliminated. The industry reshuffle is accelerating, and battery technology is also in a stage of rapid iteration. If CATL wants to continue to hold the top spot, it must continue to research and develop cutting-edge technologies.
According to CATL’s latest financial report data, in the first three quarters of this year, its research and development expenses were 14.88 billion yuan, an increase of 40.65% from 10.58 billion yuan in the same period last year. In the past three years, CATL's R&D expenses totaled 26.77 billion yuan, which is equivalent to 1.7 times the combined R&D expenses of Sunwanda, Gotion, EVE, and Funeng Technology during the same period.
In 2021, CATL will release the first-generation sodium-ion battery, which can further reduce costs and reduce dependence on lithium mines. Once the material limitations of low performance, difficult mass production, and high cost are solved, sodium-ion batteries will most likely completely replace lithium batteries in the market.
In June this year, CATL officially released the CTP3.0 Kirin battery. Its volume utilization rate exceeded 72%, the energy density can reach 255Wh/kg, and it supports 1,000 kilometers of battery life.
In August, CATL released the Shenxing Supercharged Battery, which is the first lifepo4 battery in the world that can achieve CATL Shenxing Supercharged Battery. Compared with the previous ternary lithium, lithium iron phosphate effectively solves the problem of cost issue. As for performance, CATL claims to be able to achieve an ultra-fast charging speed of "10 minutes of charging, 400 kilometers of range", a cruising range of more than 700 kilometers, and the ability to achieve fast charging in the entire temperature range.
However, from sodium-ion batteries to Kirin batteries to Shenxing supercharged batteries, the actual implementation effect still needs to be tested in practice. Sodium-ion batteries are a new direction, but mass production seems to be far away. Once the technology trend changes, the previous investment will only become a sunk cost, which will have a very serious impact on the development of the company. As for Kirin and Shenxing batteries, their essence It is still lithium battery technology, and CATL has not achieved the absolute leading advantage of "no one has it but I have it".
In the raging "arms race" of power batteries, various companies have emerged one after another in the technological battle. Under the accelerating development of these innovative battery technologies, CATL's first-mover technological advantage is no longer obvious.
Therefore, in order to ensure the stability of its market share, CATL has retained a hand. Expanding overseas markets is becoming a powerful weapon for CATL to resist competitors behind it.
Go to sea and fend off the pursuers
According to data from SNE Research, a Korean research institution, from January to August this year, CATL's global power battery usage market share expanded to 36.9%, continuing to rank first in the world; its overseas market share reached 27.7%, an increase of 6.9 percentage points from the same period last year. Among them , the market share in Europe was 34.9%, a significant increase of 8.1 percentage points year-on-year; the market share in regions other than China, the United States and Europe was 27.2%, a significant increase of 9.8 percentage points year-on-year.
In the past year, CATL has made frequent overseas moves. European car companies Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Stellantis have all become CATL customers. These high-quality customers can ensure that CATL gets a higher share in the new round of European car companies from 2026 to 2030. Among North American car companies, CATL has established a strategic partnership with Ford Motor Co., Ltd., which covers the supply of power batteries in China, Europe and North America.
In terms of overseas factories, CATL's German factory has been successfully put into production. The first phase of the Hungarian project is under construction and is expected to be completed within two years. The second phase has been communicated with the government in advance. In February this year, CATL announced that it would cooperate with Ford to build a new power battery factory in Michigan, USA, to produce lifepo4 batteries. The joint venture battery factory will use CATL's lithium iron phosphate CTP technology, with an initial production capacity of 35GWh, an investment of up to US$3.5 billion, and is scheduled to be put into production in 2026.
Unlike the "hand-to-hand combat" of domestic competitors, the challenges in overseas markets mainly come from the influence of geopolitics. The "New Battery Law" passed by the European Union in July this year requires battery companies to conduct supply chain due diligence on important raw materials. Battery companies that exceed the carbon footprint limit are prohibited from entering Europe. In the past two years, Europe has passed a series of regulations and bills in the hope of building a local battery industry chain. This protective policy has built a "high wall" for Chinese battery companies to expand the market.
In the United States, even if CATL chose to invest in technology, it encountered many obstacles, and there were even news that the project was aborted. Although CATL stated that "it is just a delay in demand, not a disappearance," it is obvious that the knife handle is not entirely in CATL's hands to seize the cake in the European and North American markets.
"There is no era of King Ning, there is only King Ning of the era." At present, domestic growth is slowing down, overseas expansion is blocked, and the undercurrent is surging. Today's CATL is like a working person facing a mid-life crisis. There is no retreat, but progress is full of thorns.
Contact Person: Miss. Elsa Liu