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Will Apple’s EV benefit Korean battery industry?

Apple Car likely to be powered by Chinese batteries, but Korean batteries projected to become next beneficiaries

A non-official apple car concept (Aristomenis Tsribas)
A non-official apple car concept (Aristomenis Tsribas)
Upon the news that Apple will launch a self-driving electric vehicle by 2024, attention quickly shifted to which batteries it will use.

Industry watchers predict that the Apple Car is likely to be loaded with LFP (lithium iron phosphate) batteries made by China’s CATL, but local lithium-ion batteries manufacturers, namely LG Energy Solution and Samsung SDI, will benefit from the US firm’s entry into the field in the long term.

“Apple’s autonomous EV project, also known as Project Titan, kicked off in 2014. For development, Apple collaborated with China’s CATL,” said an industry source from one of the three major Korean battery firms.

“For this reason, Apple is likely to use LFP batteries from CATL. However, to compete with Tesla, Apple will ultimately need premium NCM (nickel cobalt manganese) lithium-ion batteries made by Korean battery makers.”

LFP batteries, though cheaper and more stable than NCM batteries, are bulkier and lower in energy density, inadequate for third-generation EVs that need to travel more than 500 kilometers. For this reason, Tesla’s standard Model 3 sedans are loaded with CATL’s LFP batteries, while long-range and performance Model 3 sedans are equipped with LG Energy Solution’s NCM batteries.

However, the official warned that CATL’s LFP battery technology should not be underestimated, adding that Apple’s know-how in battery management can compensate for CATL’s battery technology.

“Though iPhones are loaded with batteries less powerful than those in Galaxy smartphones, they exhibit similar performance. It remains to be seen how Apple will apply its superb battery management technology to its EV,” the industry source said.


Why LFP batteries?


As to why Apple is reviewing LFP batteries, industry experts laid out different opinions.

“Apple might consider benchmarking Tesla’s dual-track strategy -- loading LFP batteries in the Chinese market and NCM batteries in premium US and European markets,” an SK Innovation official said.

Meanwhile, Sun Yang-kook, an energy engineering professor at Hanyang University, pointed out that Apple must be putting more emphasis on the safety as Apple Car would be its first EV.

“It must be noted that Apple Car is not just an ordinary EV, but a ‘self-driving’ EV. Considering the recent EV fires, Apple must be considering LFP batteries, which are resistant to overheating issues. Apple can’t take risks of Apple Car catching fire while driving on its own,” said Sun.

Sun further added that Apple Car, as an autonomous vehicle, won’t necessarily require premium NCM batteries, as its travel destinations will be mostly confined within a city.

Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University, echoed Sun’s view.

“Apple Car doesn’t require powerful batteries because high speeds will only increase chances of accidents. As current self-driving technology is imperfect, autonomous cars have to travel slow. For instance, driving at speeds between 40 kilometers and 50 kilometers per hour can reduce chances of accidents significantly,” said Kim.

“When there are EVs on the road, as many as combustion engine cars, more EV accidents will occur. Apple must be considering LFP batteries because they are more shock-resistant compared to lithium-ion batteries.”

Professor Kim also predicted Apple’s potential advancement into micro-mobility market.

“If Apple chooses LFP batteries, the Apple Car will demonstrate a slow speed and short driving range. This means that the Apple Car will be designed as a micro-mobility vehicle that mostly travels inside one city, like a taxi.”

When self-driving technology reaches its level 4 or 5, Apple is likely to skip lithium-ion batteries and transition to next-generation solid-state batteries, which are much more powerful and safer than current lithium-ion batteries, the professor added.

LG Energy Solution, Samsung SDI and SK Innovation aim to mass produce solid-state batteries in 2025, 2027 and 2028.

By Kim Byung-wook (kbw@heraldcorp.com)
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