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Lithium ion battery ‘overcapacity’ could arrive by 2015, would push prices way down

Munich/Detroit, April 19, 2012

The global automotive Li-ion battery market will grow to more than USD 9 billion by 2015
New and confirmed programs, especially in Asia, are being partly offset by volume reductions in Europe and America

Five frontrunners are set to control 70% of the world market by 2015: AESC, LG Chem, Panasonic/Sanyo, A123 and SB LiMotive
Major overcapacity and falling prices will lead to strong market consolidation
Chinese competition is growing, while China could become the leading market for e-mobility by 2020

The worldwide market for Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles is extremely dynamic. In light of recently presented or annouced vehicle models with electric, hybrid or plug-in-hybrid drives (xEV), Roland Berger experts expect the global LiB market to reach more than USD 9 billion by 2015, despite scaled-back forecasts for previously announced models. This growth will, however, be accompanied by massive overcapacity. The resulting pricing pressures are already affecting orders for 2015. Market consolidation therefore looks certain. The five frontrunners – AESC, LG Chem, Panasonic/Sanyo, A123 and SB LiMotive – will control almost 70% of the market by 2015. These are the key findings of a new update to the international study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants on the market for lithium-ion batteries in cars, light and heavy commercial vehicles as well as buses with hybrid and electric drive systems.

The experts at Roland Berger estimate that the light vehicle segment (cars and light commercial vehicles) will account for more than 85% of the total market for Li-ion battery systems in 2015. By then, there will probably be in excess of 4 million vehicles with electric, hybrid or plug-in-hybrid drive systems (xEVs) coming off production lines each year.

“We still expect the global market for Li-ion batteries to reach USD 9 billion by 2015,” says the study’s author, Thomas Wendt of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. “Although forecasts for many existing programs have been downgraded, there are new xEV models coming out in Asia, especially hybrids.” Even if Japanese and Korean carmakers opt for alternative drive technologies, the majority of hybrid vehicles produced will be equipped with nickel-metal-hybrid batteries by 2015.

Although nickel-metal-hybrid batteries will remain entrenched in certain segments through 2015, the Roland Berger experts reckon with continued penetration of the Li-ion technology. “We are starting to see some signs of Li-ion batteries being used in start-stop systems,” notes Wolfgang Bernhart, Partner at Roland Berger and co-author of the study. “Start-stop will not make up a large share of the LiB market by 2015, but we can expect to see micro-hybrids vehicles with Li-ion batteries coming onto the market over the next couple of years.”

Market consolidation – five top players to dominate the market
Over a hundred companies worldwide are currently active in the market for automotive Li-ion batteries. Yet production capacity in this market will probably be twice as big as demand in 2015. “Some of the battery producers have excessively grand expansion plans. The ramifications are already being felt and LiB suppliers have started to cut their forecasts,” notes Thomas Wendt. “This is why we’ll see considerable market consolidation going forward. Pricing pressures will certainly increase.” For 2015, Roland Berger envisages OEMs facing prices in the EUR 180-200 /kWh range for high-energy packs on large orders. “This means the current margins of approx. 5 to 10% will also drop in the medium term,” says Bernhart.

In the course of this consolidation, five top players will share most of the battery market in 2015. The frontrunners are: AESC (20%), LG Chem (15%), Panasonic/Sanyo (13%), A123 (11%) und SB LiMotive (9%). “Some OEMs have lowered their market forecasts for electric and hybrid vehicles, and some new automakers have already failed. But we still expect strong growth in the e-mobility battery market going forward,” adds Thomas Wendt. What is more, from 2016/2017 one or two other companies will join the ranks of the top players controlling 80-90% of the market. This development will be triggered by new vehicles coming onto the market and by the use of new material composites that promise higher energy densities at the same price.

Problems are arising above all for the small suppliers, whose combined share of the global market will only amount to 2% in 2015. “The first companies are already facing insolvency,” says Wolfgang Bernhart. “Consolidation in the industry is going to happen. Large companies like JCI, who are not in the limelight yet, will play a more important role. Smaller players, on the other hand, will disappear. We also expect that cell manufacturers will supply directly to the OEMs.”
Chinese manufactuers gaining ground
There is also growing competition from China in the battery market. By 2015, Chinese manufactuers will control about 8% of the world market. And China itself could emerge as the biggest market for e-mobility by 2020. For international battery producers, this trend presents both an opportunity and a challenge: “Battery manufacturers must best-position themselves on the Chinese market, too, if they want to secure long-term success,” says Wendt.


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