1 Nov 23

The Battery Series: Li Auto wants to topple German giants with 'Qilin'

When it comes to the domestic fight among luxury electric vehicle (EV) models in China, Li Auto is to arm up with 'Qilin' to defeat the German rivals. 

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) brands are spreading quite fast in Europe while showing strong resistance against Tesla in their home country. BYD, the global new energy vehicle (NEV) leader, is not the only brand defying Tesla, as Nio, Xpeng, and Huawei-backed Aito rapidly increase their domestic sales. Another brand in the Chinese EV makers list is picking up the haste in sales while working hard on new EV models and next-generation EV batteries. But the goal is not only to beat Tesla but to bring down the German domination in the premium EV segment. 

Beijing-based luxury EV maker Li Auto (aka Li Xiang) is pretty ambitious to take on Tesla. After ending the manufacturing of the first model of the brand, the Li Auto One, the current models on sale are the Li L7, Li L8, and Li L9, which all surpassed 10,000 sales in September 2023, helping Li Auto reach a total 36,060 unit sales that month and breaking the sales record for a consecutive six months. As of September 2023, Li Auto increased its sales by 212.7% year-on-year, according to South China Morning Post. 

But this is just the beginning. Li Auto is preparing to release four new models in 2024, one with extended-range technology and three being battery electric vehicles (BEVs). In 2025, the luxury EV maker plans to reveal one super flagship model along with five extended-range electric vehicles (EREVs) and five BEVs, a total of 11 new models. 

For such an ambitious plan, Li Auto needs high-performance batteries, and the EV maker has been working on it for a while.

Li L9 chassis. Courtesy of Li Auto.

1,000 km range with Qilin

At the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2023, Li Auto announced that its 800V high-voltage platform, launched in 2021, enables a BEV to charge for a 400 km range in 10 minutes. Li Auto will equip its first BEV with Chinese battery giant CATL's (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd) 4C Qilin (Kirin) battery to achieve an impressive charging capacity. 

4C refers to the charging speed at which the battery pack can be fully charged in a quarter of an hour. The Qilin battery, aka CTP (Cell-to-Pack) 3.0 battery, was released last year and first appeared on the Zeekr 009 MPV (multi-purpose vehicle), a six-seat car with two electric engines. Not surprisingly, Li Auto's first BEV will be an MPV, demonstrating the EV and charging capabilities of the brand. 

What is interesting about the 4C Qilin battery? The third generation CTP system has a volume utilisation rate (the percentage of battery energy usage) of 72%, compared to the first battery pack's 52%, released in 2019. The internal structure of 4C Qilin includes a water cooling plater and thermal insulation, while the components are connected by a micron bridge, increasing durability under various conditions. Another component is a longitudinal beam perpendicular to the vehicle, providing resistance against vibrations and impacts. The Prisma-shaped lithium-ion battery cells are separated by the water-cooling sheet, avoiding overheating and supporting fast charging. 

The maximum energy density of Qilin 4C is up to 255 Wh/kg for the nickel manganese cobalt (NCM) packs. At the same time, CATL states the battery increases power by 13% over the 4680 system, providing a range over 1,000 km. Zeekr001 and Zeekr 009 are to be equipped with the Qilin 4C, a 140 kW/h pack estimated to provide the Zeekr 009 a 500-mile (around 805 km) range.

In May 2023, a Chinese Zeekr 001 WE owner posted an actual battery life test on Weibo (China's Google), starting his journey from Golmud, Qinghai, driving for 11 hours and returning without charging the battery. Under different altitudes and temperatures, the battery lasted 922.9 km, with an average speed of 79 km/h and an energy consumption of 14.7 kWh/100 km, according to Car News China. 

Qilin batteries entered mass production in March 2023 and are now waiting to be utilised in Li Auto models starting in 2024. 

Images: CATL

Li to beat the top three

For 2023, Li Auto's first goal is to hit 40,000 unit sales by the end of the year. The EV maker has its main production facility in Changzhou, Jiangsu, with a monthly capacity of 50,000 units. From 2024 on, Li Auto aims to enhance its production capacity to achieve the main objective: Beating the top premium EV brands in China. 

As of July 2021, the top three appears as Mercedes-Benz (63,900 sales), BMW (58,100) and Audi (57,500), making the German giants a three-layer challenge against Li Auto, which stood at fourth place with 32,500 sales, slightly ahead of Tesla (31,300). 

Li Auto delivered almost 258,000 vehicles in 2022, and by 2025, the EV maker wants to have 300 fast charging stations on the major highways of China. The prices of various models that year start from 200,000 yuan (€25,846) in 2025, giving a strong advantage against the premium German-made models. 

Check earlier articles in this series:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
The Battery Series: Mercedes-Benz's global battery network is ready
The Battery Series: Renault to unleash future EV mobility with the R5
The Battery Series: Volvo's strategy combines performance and safety

The main image shows Li L9, courtesy of Li Auto.

Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen