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Toyota bets on solid-state as CATL eyes Thailand

Hello everyone, this is Akito from Singapore.

In the spring of 2019, I was in Shanghai to cover the biannual motor show. I will never forget the words of a Nissan engineer who had just announced a new electric vehicle for the Chinese market. “EV production without Chinese-made parts is no longer possible,” he said.

Nissan was a pioneer in EVs. It released the world’s first globally mass-produced model — the Leaf — in 2010, a project in which this engineer was involved. “At that time, all parts were made in Japan,” he recalled.

However, the newly announced Nissan EV used batteries made by Chinese manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology, known as CATL. And Tesla was in the middle of building a large-scale EV factory in Shanghai.

Four years have passed since, and Chinese automakers and parts manufacturers have become much bigger players in the EV market. By contrast, Japanese automakers’ presence has shrivelled.

Under these circumstances, major Japanese automobile manufacturers are trying to make a comeback with all-solid-state batteries, considered the industry’s favourite next-generation technology.

Toyota’s bet on solid-state

Toyota Motor aims to release an electric vehicle powered by an all-solid-state battery as early as 2027, according to Nikkei staff writers. Chief Technology Officer Hiroki Nakajima said the company had “found quality material” to “keep up with the rest of the world,” and would “put it to practical use”.

Solid-state EV batteries can be charged in under 10 minutes and power a vehicle over a range of 1,200 kilometres — 2.4 times the distance achievable with conventional lithium-ion batteries.

Toyota’s Japanese rival Nissan also plans to release an EV with a solid-state battery by the end of March 2029, and German giant BMW plans to mass-produce them by 2030.

Toyota, which has a strong line-up of hybrid vehicles, is looking to accelerate its EV business by using solid-state batteries. The company only sold about 20,000 EVs globally last year but wants to raise that to 1.5 million units by 2026 and 3.5 million by 2030.

CATL eyes Thai EVs

In the meantime, Chinese battery giant CATL announced that it will open a factory in Thailand to assemble batteries for EVs with Arun Plus, a subsidiary of Thai state-owned oil company PTT, says Nikkei staff writer Francesca Regalado.

The joint venture’s investment of 3.6bn baht ($104mn) is the latest in Thailand’s push to become a hub for EVs in south-east Asia.

The factory is expected to start assembling batteries in the fourth quarter of 2024. It will supply Thailand-based EV makers, starting with Horizon Plus, Arun’s EV manufacturing arm, targeting a capacity of 50,000 cars per year in 2024 and 150,000 by 2030.

“This is a great opportunity for both PTT/Arun Plus and Thailand, as CATL is a global leader of new-energy innovative technologies, covering the entire global battery value chain,” said Arun Plus Managing Director Ekachai Yimsakul, who was in Shanghai to sign the co-operation agreement with CATL executives.

Microsoft to move top AI experts from China

Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA) stood out as a rare example of successful collaboration between the US and China on high-tech research. Many of China’s leading tech entrepreneurs have passed through the institute in Beijing.

But tensions between the two superpowers have eroded MSRA’s freedom, according to insiders who spoke with the Financial Times’ Eleanor Olcott, Qianer Liu and Ryan McMorrow. And now, Microsoft is moving some of its top AI researchers from its facility in Beijing to a new facility in Vancouver, Canada, a move that threatens to undermine an institution that has been a crucial training ground for the country’s tech talent.

Microsoft said the Vancouver lab would be “organisationally aligned” with the MSRA and staffed by researchers from China and other countries around the world.

The US tech giant’s decision to move the workers was in response to heightened political tensions between the US and China. It was also a defensive manoeuvre to stop researchers from being poached by domestic tech groups desperate for AI researchers to develop homegrown versions of OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

It risks sparking a backlash in Beijing, which has sought to lure high-tech Chinese researchers working overseas back to the mainland through generous grants and prestigious teaching posts.

Indonesia’s nickel surplus

The global nickel supply is heading for a bigger surplus this year, as more Indonesian smelters feeding the EV battery and stainless steel industries come on stream, threatening to keep prices below the record highs of 2022, according to Nikkei staff writer Erwida Maulia.

Prices rose to new heights last year after major nickel producer Russia invaded Ukraine, and on the back of rising demand for so-called Class 1 nickel used in EV batteries.

However, nickel production also climbed in 2022, as Chinese-backed smelters in Indonesia rapidly increased their output, while slowing global economic growth muted demand for stainless steel. Indonesia is tied with Australia as home to the world’s largest nickel reserves, with each country holding a fifth of global reserves. According to one analyst, the market is “heading for a larger surplus in 2023,” and “will not see a deficit before 2028”.

Suggested reads

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  2. Chinese tech groups suffer as foreign investors take flight (FT)

  3. Thailand aims to duplicate Singapore model for start-ups (Nikkei Asia)

  4. Ex-Samsung executive alleged to have stolen tech to recreate chip plant in China (FT)

  5. Japan tops global patent ranking for innovative cancer treatments (Nikkei Asia)

  6. Dutch government to screen Chinese tech students on security risks (FT)

  7. Neil Shen goes it alone in China after Sequoia split (FT)

  8. Bangladesh readies digital bank framework in push to go cashless (Nikkei Asia)

  9. AI ‘euphoria’ and EV bets drive South Korea market rally (FT)

  10. ChatGPT unleashed an AI race, now regulators are struggling to hold on (Nikkei Asia)

#techAsia is co-ordinated by Nikkei Asia’s Katherine Creel in Tokyo, with assistance from the FT tech desk in London.

Sign up here at Nikkei Asia to receive #techAsia each week. The editorial team can be reached at techasia@nex.nikkei.co.jp.

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