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The Electric: Chinese EV Makers Move to Pack More Batteries Into a Car

Today's column is from Dalibor Petkovic, a freelance researcher specializing in Chinese industrial policies. Since 2017, he has focused on the Chinese EV market, as well as smart cities, urban logistics and battery recycling management.

Makers of batteries for electric vehicles have made tremendous strides in the past decade by adjusting battery chemistry, yielding more power and range and lower costs. More recently, innovation in chemistry has slowed, and structural improvements to battery packs have taken on more importance. 

Battery makers initially put battery cells into a metal frame called a module; modules were then assembled into packs, with a tray and a lid, and attached to the vehicle’s chassis. In 2019, China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology pioneered cell to pack technology, eliminating the module; CATL CTP batteries now power Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y models, among others. 

Now some Chinese EV manufacturers are moving to eliminate the pack and integrate the cells with the vehicle’s chassis, usually by placing them along the bottom plate of the car body. This further reduces costs by eliminating components for the pack, as well as diminishing weight, allowing EVs to travel farther on a charge. It also enables manufacturers to squeeze more cells into the same space, generating more power and greater driving range. 

Leapmotor last month began pre-sales for its C01 model, which it calls the world’s first mass-produced car without a battery pack, a step toward a true cell to chassis system; initial deliveries are expected this fall. The manufacturer claims the system, which removes the top lid from the pack and attaches it to the chassis, increases the space available for the battery 14.5%, boosting range 10% to an estimated 420 miles and cutting structural component costs 15%. Byd, another EV maker, recently introduced a similar system it calls cell to body, attaching the pack to the body’s bottom plate, which now serves as the pack’s lid. Byd began taking pre-orders for its Seal sedan using the CTB system last month and expects to begin making deliveries within the next few months.

For now, cell to chassis systems will be used primarily in mid- to high-end cars, which offer more power and range. They won’t work with the low-end models that rely on motorists swapping out their batteries rather than recharging them. Why? Because they are part of the chassis, these systems can’t be replaced.

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About Steve LeVine

Steve LeVine is editor of The Electric. Previously, he worked at Axios, Quartz and Medium, and before that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War, and is on Twitter @stevelevine

Email Steve

Steve LeVine is editor of The Electric. Previously, he worked at Axios, Quartz and Medium, and before that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War, and is on Twitter @stevelevine
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