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LG battery arm vows to edge past Chinese rival

LG Energy Solution CEO Kwon Young-soo (center) at an online press conference. (LG Energy Solution)
LG Energy Solution CEO Kwon Young-soo (center) at an online press conference. (LG Energy Solution)
LG Energy Solution said Monday that it would soon outcompete its bigger Chinese rival in the global race to develop electric vehicle batteries, amid market anticipation that the South Korean battery maker’s market debut will set a record later this month.

“We’ve received more orders. We'll be overtaking our rival. And the market capitalization gap between us -- LG Energy Solution and CATL -- will also shrink. I certainly see opportunities,” LG Energy Solution CEO Kwon Young-soo said at an online press conference.

The chief of the world’s second-largest battery maker was referring to Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., the bigger Chinese rival that has a market cap of 236 trillion won ($197 billion). LG Energy Solution is expected to raise up to 12 trillion won at the listing and reach a market value of 70 trillion won.

The company said the it will use the funds to build more overseas plants, expand investment in R&D and work to raise battery standards.

The battery maker commands more than 20 percent of the global electric vehicle battery market and supplies General Motors and Tesla, among others. It runs production sites in Korea and overseas, including the US, Poland, China and Indonesia.

LG Energy Solution is planning to make two new plants in Ohio and Tennessee by 2025, all jointly built with GM.

“Other than that, we don’t have any plans right now for factory expansion. But a joint venture is always an option, though all plants in Poland will be wholly our own,” Kwon said, noting that production sites need to be close to automakers but that was not the case in Poland.

Kwon added that his company intends to build “smart plants,” production sites powered by artificial intelligence because overseas plants need the expertise of skilled managers, who could share their know-how through the latest technology.

“We call that data-driven decision making. We have absolute confidence that it will reshape the way we make batteries,” Kwon said.

Automakers have tried to make batteries on their own, but their efforts to do so are not threatening according to Kwon. He cited supply issues and patent infringement as hurdles. “Keeping the supply steady while using battery technologies without making steep royalty payments poses a challenge.”

Kwon, who emphasized quality batteries to set LG apart from CATL, said he had no immediate concerns over supply bottlenecks caused by the coronavirus pandemic, since his company had locked in key materials in advance.

The company is expected to offer 34 million new shares in an indicative range of 257,000 to 300,000 won per share. LG Chem, which wholly owns the battery arm, plans to offer 8.5 million existing shares in the same price range.

Analysts have said the IPO could make the battery maker Korea’s third most valuable company after Samsung Electronics and SK hynix.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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