The sales of x-electric vehicles (xEV) in China reached a historic high of 300,000 units in 2015. Correspondingly, the market for xEV lithium batteries witnessed surging growth in the same period. In the fourth quarter, for instance, xEV batteries for vehicles models such as passenger cars and microcars took off. Strong demand in the xEV market has put pressure on the supply of cylindrical lithium cells for IT applications (e.g. notebook and tablet batteries). Affected by supply shortages, the prices of cylindrical cells have also recovered from their long slump. According to EnergyTrend, a division of TrendForce, prices of cylindrical cells of all capacity types (i.e. high, low and medium) in this year’s first quarter was on average 1~3% higher than in the previous quarter due to the competing demand from xEV and IT markets. EnergyTrend furthermore expects steady growth in both demand and supply of cylindrical cells in the near future.
Just as the demand of cylindrical cells has been outpacing their supply, polymer cells are gaining considerable grounds in the IT battery market this year and are starting to take over cylindrical cells’ place in related applications. EnergyTrend Research Manager Duff Lu pointed out that branded notebook vendors are adding new notebook products powered by polymer cells in proportion to their reduction of upcoming models that use cylindrical cells. The increase in the adoption of polymer cells by notebook vendors fits into the long-term trend of consumer electronics becoming lighter and more mobile. To take advantage of this opportunity, China-based polymer cell manufacturers have been rapidly expanding their capacities and even lowering prices of their products to capture market shares from prismatic cells in different applications.
In the prismatic market, Samsung SDI and LG Chem have long been the dominant suppliers, and together they control over 80% of the global market. The two South Korean battery makers initially planned to use prismatic cells to replace cylindrical cells in some application markets. With prices of polymer cells in decline, however, they are holding off on carrying out this particular product strategy this year. Falling polymer cell prices also affected the enthusiasm of notebook vendors for adopting prismatic cells. As a result, there was a noticeable oversupply of prismatic cells in the notebook battery market during the first quarter of 2016.
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