We Went Out to Buy Li-ion Cells in China. Here's what we found!

Updated: Dec 1, 2018

Batteries for electric vehicles is the costliest component and the lifeline for any e-vehicle. The technology has evolved and is continuously getting better but at least for the next five years Lithium-ion is here to stay. Li-ion batteries are made of cells which combine in series or parallel combinations to make particular voltage and capacity (Amps) for the battery pack. Since there is no Lithium ore in India and no indigenous technology to make these cells, almost all of it is being sourced from China, Korea and Japan. Branded cells from Samsung, LG & Sanyo etc., provide good specs but are costly for the Indian market and thus raise the end user price for the vehicles.

The manufacturers are thus searching for reliable alternatives from China. Aurora Ventures went looking for some of these cells available in Chinese factories and found that it’s not as simple as going onto Alibaba and start sourcing after a few clicks and conversations. The presence of more than 100 Li-ion cell manufacturers throw up a wide variety of options for buyers. Many of these manufacturers also claim to offer BIS certificate for their cells, which is a necessary document for battery imports in India. However, interesting observation that came out was that each of the manufacturers offering comparable specs is offering them in wide price range. For e.g. one of the smaller factories in Shenzhen offers BIS approved cells Li-ion (NCM) 18650 2600mah cells for $0.95 EXW price. Whereas one of the globally present branded manufacturer from Shenzhen is offering the same specs of the cell for $2.3 EXW price for similar quantities. Now, there is a wide array of producers in between that range.

One of the salespersons, who wished to remain anonymous, told Aurora Ventures “Obviously, we can offer different prices to different customers. Altering quality based on target price is not difficult for us”.

What to look for when buying Lithium Ion cells from China?

First and foremost is the quality process followed by these factories. When making a pack, one bad cell can cause performance issues for the whole pack. Thus, maintaining quality for each individual cell is crucial. This comes with good incoming quality control, process control and outgoing quality checks. Not each factory has the processes and resources to offer that kind of quality assurance.

Avoid trade companies while making purchase. Always reach out to factories and their official sales representatives. Visit the factories or have reliable third-party consultants do factory inspections or audits on your behalf. Pictures on Alibaba can be deceptive too, like any other social media platform.

If your need is large number of cells or you want a long-term cooperation, perform Quality process audits to check how serious the company is about the quality of their manufacturing. Have a quality person visit the factory for random inspections of the factory. Quality fade is a serious issue with manufacturing in China, and you do not want to end up with thousands of cells that prove to be of different quality class than what you ordered.

Fake pricing and datasheets are not so uncommon. If you see surprisingly low prices, cross-check by testing samples. Try to cross check with the factory directly if the price quoted by a trader is right. The Newton’s law of manufacturing in China, “Too good to be true” applies here also. Additionally, Chinese negotiation style of acquiring a new business at low costs and sneakily providing a different quality product then agreed upon will not be helpful for maintaining your long term quality.

Always, read the market and see the best price. You will get the price you want from one of the factories running with single non-automated assembly line in some corner of Shenzhen. But, the quality will not be guaranteed. Once you read the market for the right price, negotiate with the factories to a point they don’t start cutting corners. Even then, continuous checks are important.

Can we add any?

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Aurora Ventures is a professional team which can offer New Vendor Identification, Onboarding, Quality Audits and Factory Inspection services for your vendors in China. Drop us an email at connect@auroraventures.in to know more.