China’s biggest electric vehicle maker BYD on Sunday announced it has started mass production of a newly designed lithium battery which boasts high energy performance and eliminates the risk of spontaneous combustion in EVs.

Why it matters: The new product may help BYD recover ground lost in the EV battery market to CATL, which has been the world’s biggest battery maker since 2017 in terms of kilowatt hours sold.

  • EV makers in recent years have rushed out to buy nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) batteries, which enable longer driving range with higher energy density, rather than those powered by lithium iron phosphate (LFP), one of BYD’s major products.
  • However, safety remains an issue as EVs can catch fire or explode in the case of a thermal runaway event, which happens when the battery is overcharged and the heat is not dissipated. EV companies including Tesla and Nio reported repeated cases of car combustion or explosion last year.
  • An unreasonable pursuit of energy density in the industry has made EV makers pay “an extremely high price” in reputation, according to Wang Chuanfu, BYD chairman and president. EVs with blade batteries, he added, will “never spontaneously ignite.”

Details: The mass production of a so-called “blade battery” has started, Warren Buffet-backed BYD said on Sunday, a product which boasts energy density of 332 watt-hours per liter, 50% better than a conventional LFP battery.

  • The company boasted that the new battery cells have better thermal stability and stronger resistance to collisions. The product has passed nail penetration tests, a type of safety testing done to stimulate internal short-circuiting.
  • “Today almost all vehicle brands that you may know are in discussion with us for future cooperation based on blade battery technology,” He Long, vice president of BYD said. The Shenzhen-based automaker last year formed partnership with Toyota and Daimler for EV development and battery supply.
  • Still, the company is on track to equip its flagship sedan model, Han, with the new battery technology. The Han’s maximum driving range is 605 km (376 miles)—outpacing Nio’s ES8 and the Tesla Model 3—and is expected to go on sale in June. No other vehicle plans for the battery have been revealed.
  • “Han’s range performance has surpassed a number of EV models equipped with NCA batteries,” (our translation) China-based equity firm Zheshang Securities said in a report published Sunday. Analysts said the flat structure could largely help cope with heat dissipation while improving vehicle range.

Context: China’s biggest EV maker and a major battery supplier, BYD trailed CATL in the EV battery market, reporting sales volume of 10.75 gigawatt hours (GWh) last year, just over a third of CATL’s, according to figures released by China Automotive Battery Innovation Alliance.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen