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China’s New Wave of Electric Car Battery Giants Are Going Public

(Bloomberg) -- It’s easy to think, with the blizzard of announcements around new EV battery capacity being added in Europe and the U.S., and a blockbuster listing for South Korea’s LG Energy Solutions, that China’s dominance of the sector is finally under serious challenge.

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Automakers including GM and Ford are building U.S. battery facilities with partners from outside China, while Sweden’s Northvolt is adding more plants and has secured $50 billion of contracts from customers including BMW and Volkswagen.

Yet that huge push to diversify supply chains won’t end China’s control of lithium-ion batteries. The nation will still account for about two-thirds of manufacturing capacity by the end of 2030, versus about 74% now, as a wave of currently smaller players complete ambitious expansions.

Plans by CALB for a $1.5 billion initial public offering this year and proposals to add vast volumes of new manufacturing capacity underscore the nation has no intention of losing its grip.

Just as Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., or CATL as it is known, jumped from relative obscurity to become the global battery leader after its 2018 trading debut in Shenzhen, CALB aims to use a Hong Kong listing to rapidly accelerate its own growth.

SVolt Energy Technology, a spinoff of carmaker Great Wall Motor and another rising giant of China’s EV supply chains, is meanwhile studying a listing on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-like Star Board, Chairman Yang Hongxin said last year.

Investors have shown they’re ready to back China’s battery industry. CATL has surged more than 1,800% since its listing, and currently has a market valuation of more than $181 billion, ranking it ahead of auto sector leaders including VW, Ford and Mercedes-Benz. In its latest funding round in December, SVolt raised 6 billion yuan ($943 million).

CALB, a battery supplier to automakers including Guangzhou Automobile Group and Changan NEV, already ranks among the world’s top 10 by manufacturing capacity, according to BloombergNEF data. By early 2025, CALB’s growth plans should catapult the company to the No. 2 position behind CATL, closely followed by Svolt, which has an agreement to supply Jeep maker Stellantis.

Jiangsu-based CALB is working with Huatai Securities on a planned listing that’s likely to happen in the coming months, people familiar with the details said last week. The IPO could be Hong Kong’s biggest in 2022.

It’ll bring vast new attention to CALB’s growth plans and cement chairwoman Liu Jingyu’s role as a key player in the industry’s future. She’s already led a restructuring in the company that’s focusing sales on regular cars, rather than buses or other niche markets, and is spearheading a drive to add global research facilities, including in North America.

CALB, with eight major production bases across China, aims to add 100 gigawatt hours of additional capacity in Guangzhou and Jiangmen, has a project to add production of 100,000 tons of lithium cathode materials a year, and signed an initial agreement to add a battery plant in Europe. It also returned to profit last year, according to its sales listing document.

The firm’s rise will bring fresh scrutiny of CALB’s ownership and government ties, however. The company was established in 2015 and emerged from state-owned conglomerate Aviation Industry Corp. of China, or AVIC, a supplier of defense equipment including to China’s military.

CALB currently counts entities controlled by the Jintan district government as its largest shareholder, according to a regulatory filing, but it has disposed of its stakes in a unit that engages in military industrial business after considering its potential impacts and risks.

Still, the efforts to add more capacity by both SVolt and CALB, along with huge expansions planned by CATL, are likely fuel more worries about the global EV sector’s reliance on Beijing.

U.S. Senators including Democrat Joe Manchin and Republicans Lisa Murkowski on Friday sent a letter to the Biden administration raising fresh concerns about the country’s dependence on China. Those qualms are likely to linger as the country's big battery industry gets even bigger.

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