Apple is supposedly working on a secret project to develop automotive batteries with its long-time battery manufacturer, Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL), according to a report published Thursday by Shanghai, China-based Yicai Global, which cites unnamed sources who claimed the two companies have signed a confidentiality agreement over the terms of their so-called Li-ion battery research and development “scheme.”
While the report is mum on specific details, CATL, which is based out of Ningde, China, describes itself as “a leader in lithium-ion battery research and development,” including the manufacturing of battery cells, materials, and recycling. The company alleges that it currently has more than 3,700 full-time R&D personnel associated with a variety of leading institutions and laboratories around the world.
For the past two-years running, CATL claims it has been the world’s third largest volume manufacturer of electric and hybrid batteries for both passenger vehicles and buses — and it follows closely behind its Chinese rivals BYD and Panasonic — the No. 1 and No. 2 battery manufacturers, respectively, who are the current suppliers of electric Li-ion batteries at the heart of Tesla cars.
Founded in 2011, CATL is a spinoff of Amperex Technology Limited, which has been one of Apple’s key suppliers of Li-ion batteries for a number of the company’s products, including iPhones.
CATL Thinks Big
The report claims that CATL hopes to achieve a number of milestones within the coming years, including plans to increase its battery output to 50 gigawatt hours (GWH) by 2020. Interestingly, Tesla recently announced plans to increase battery output from its own, Nevada-based factory, from at least 35 GWH up to as many as 150 GWH, within the same timeframe, which means that CATL could potentially become the world’s second largest battery-maker.
Moreover, CATL has plans to significantly reduce battery costs, while improving energy density and increasing battery charging speeds by 2020, which sounds an awful lot like what Apple hopes to accomplish as pursuant with its recently patented Laminar battery technology.
But Apple Isn’t Building a Car Anymore, Right?
CATL’s involvement with Apple remains the unknown variable at this time, and claims that it’s working on automobile batteries with the iPhone-maker seem highly suspect given that Apple has previously declared it’s no longer working to develop an actual electric car — but rather, merely the underlying technology and software required to power autonomous vehicles.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems,” Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Emily Chang last month. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.”
So while the Yicai Global report suggests that a battery research and development project is underway, it seems highly unlikely that the fruits of it will be destined for Apple’s non-existent car. But perhaps the underlying autonomous vehicle system, itself, will require an electric battery to power it.