Zeekr Just Embarrassed Tesla & The Entire EV World
500 kW charging in an EV that is $14,000 cheaper than the equivalent Tesla. But, How?
You may never have heard of Zeekr or its Chinese parent company, Geely. But if you have any interest in the EV revolution, affordable e-mobility or environmentally friendly technology, you will soon! You see, they have developed a battery that blows anything Tesla or any other battery maker has out of the water! Their “Golden Battery” is more energy dense, way faster charging, more eco-friendly, and, most importantly, far cheaper than any of their peers’ offerings. It is an absolute breakthrough moment for this Eastern Tesla rival, which could place them at the tippy top of the EV world. But how have they managed this feat?
Well, let’s start off with what this battery actually is.
The Golden Battery is a Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery pack. LFP chemistry is currently only found in budget EVs, as they tend to be less energy-dense and slower charging, but crucially, they are around 25% cheaper than their lithium-ion cousins. LFP cells also use far more common, less toxic, easy-to-mine materials than lithium-ion. As such, LFP cells, on average, have a far lighter impact on the planet than lithium-ion, both in terms of direct ecological effects and carbon footprint. This also makes them less prone to market forces, as materials can be sourced from a wide variety of places, making prices far more stable.
What Zeekr did with the Golden Battery was not only to mitigate the shortcomings of LFP cells, but also to enhance them to the point where they actually perform better than many lithium-ion cells.
You see, the Golden battery uses an 800V “sandwich” construction. The 800V architecture, which is double the voltage of a typical EV battery, enables charge currents to halve for the same charging rate. As current is the limiting factor to cell charging, this doubles the overall rate of charge of the battery pack compared to regular 400V packs. The sandwich construction refers to its use of prismatic blade-like cells stacked in a rack with cooling elements between them, like a sandwich on its side. This reduces the number of individual cells, making construction easier and cheaper. It also increases the surface area between the cells and the cooling system, increasing its cooling capacity. But crucially, it increases the overall energy density of the pack by ensuring more of the pack’s space is taken up by the battery and not other bumph. Zeekr claims the Golden Battery has a volume utilisation rate of 83.7%, far greater than the 72% of the CATL lithium-ion batteries they currently use.
These simple changes have enabled this pack to charge at a whopping rate of 500kW, giving it a 10% to 80% charge time of 15 minutes. In the 007 (the first car to get this pack), that equates to 311 miles of added range in just 15 minutes (using CLTC range estimation).
Sadly, we don’t know much else about this pack just yet. Actual volumetric density, price per kWh or what sizes it can come in are simply not available. However, for some context, BYD’s Blade Battery, which uses the same battery chemistry, battery architecture and construction, is forecast to cost only $55 per kWh. That is nearly half the estimates of what Tesla’s 4680 pack currently costs and 60% cheaper than most lithium-ion cells on sale today. The Blade Battery is also energy dense enough to put over 80kWh of battery into a small Model 3-sized car. Now, the Golden Battery does charge a lot faster than the Blade Battery, which has a peak charge rate of only 150 kW, but as we will come to in a minute, that doesn’t mean it should cost much more or be less energy-dense, and the first car to get this pack is evidence of this.
This is why the Golden Battery is so damn revolutionary. It charges at nearly twice the rate of a Tesla 4680 pack, has theoretically a far smaller environmental footprint than a Tesla 4680 pack, is energy-dense enough to enable long-range EVs, and due to the low-cost nature of the chemistry and construction of the pack, should cost far less than the 4680. In other words, this pack is one of the best in the world, no matter how you measure it.
In fact, you can see this from the quite frankly unbelievable spec sheet of the first EV to be equipped with it: The Zeekr 007.
The 007 is an executive saloon EV that will debut in China as soon as January next year and will likely debut in the EU, UK and possibly Australia in a year or two. The base model is equipped with a 75.6 kWh Golden Battery, giving it a 428-mile range CLTC (roughly 342 miles WLTP based on BYD Seal CLTC and WLTP ratios). As I stated before, this means it can charge at a rate of 500 kW, meaning 10% to 80% charge in only 15 minutes, or the ability to add 311 miles (based on CLTC) of range in only 15 minutes (239.4 miles if using WLTP). It also has a single 310 horsepower motor in the rear, giving a 0–62 mph of 5.4 seconds.
With specs like that, how much do you think it should cost? Bearing in mind that Lotus (a sister company to Geely) is installing 450 kW chargers worldwide soon, and Zeekr has already rolled out 600 kW charging stations in China, and looks to be doing so in Europe soon too. So you will actually be able to charge at this rate in the coming years. The 007 has a similar range and performance to a Model 3 Long Range, but it is a little bigger, about the size of a BMW 5 Series, and charges way faster! Don’t forget, it’s also built by the same guys who make Volvos and Polestars, so the build quality is up there. So, maybe $5,000 (£4,000) more than the Tesla? Around the $51,000 (£40,000 equivalent) mark?
Well, in China, it costs the equivalent of $32,600 (£25,700) or $14,000 (£11,000) cheaper than the equivalent Tesla!The EU Chinese EV import tax sits at only 10%. So when it comes to the West (like other Zeekr models have), it could cost as little as €36,000 ($36,000 equivalent or £28,000, especially as the UK still follows EU import taxes for EVs).
We can’t attribute this vast price difference solely to the Golden Battery. The Model 3 still uses 2170 cells at a rough price of $139 per kWh (current market average for lithium-ion), giving it a pack cost of $10,855. If the Golden Battery has a similar price point once scaled to the BYD Blade Battery of $55 per kWh, it has a pack price of $4,158. So, a good deal of the price difference is actually due to Chinese manufacturing. But this price shows that the Golden Battery must cost Zeekr far less than $100 per kWh to manufacture, despite its ludicrously fast charge speed!
But that brings me to my final point. How has Zeekr made an LFP pack structurally identical to the BYD Blade Battery that can charge over 3 times as fast? Well, it’s all to do with temperature and lifespan. Let me explain.
Let’s start with the BYD blade battery. Its cells charge at 1.5C, which means they charge at a current 1.5 times that of their nominal discharge current. Which is relatively high for an LFP cell. As the BYD blade battery and the Golden Battery both have a pack architecture of 800V, the only way for the Golden battery to have a peak charge rate of 3.333 times that of the Blade Battery (150 kW vs 500 kW) is to have a charging current of 3.333 times higher at a massive 5C!
The reason the Blade Battery doesn’t charge at this high current is temperature and battery degradation. LFP cells are way more resistant to high temperatures than lithium-ion cells, but pumping that much current through them can lead to sky-high temperatures, which can damage the cell and its surrounding components over time.
But, as SVTOL has shown with its 5C-rated aviation-grade LFP cells, you can make LFP cells charge at this rate without a problem. This can be done by optimising the internal chemistry for lower resistance, reducing the amount of heat produced at higher voltages, and providing the pack with better cooling abilities to keep the temperature in check. However, even then, charging at this high voltage can damage cells and shorten their lifespan.
But, LFP cells have a far greater lifespan than lithium-ion cells. The BYD Blade Battery has a life span of over 4,000 charge cycles, over twice that of high-grade lithium-ion cells. As such, the BYD Seal, which uses the Blade Battery, can drive for over 1,200,000 miles without changing its battery pack. If an EV battery pack can last 200,000 miles before needing to be changed, it is considered long-lived enough to be viable. As such, even if Zeekr’s 500 kW charging reduces the battery lifecycle expectancy by 83%, the pack will last long enough to be viable.
So, it’s likely that through a combination of reducing the cell’s internal resistance, increasing the cooling capacity of the pack, and sacrificing the pack’s potential lifespan (though keeping an acceptable lifespan), Zeekr has been able to make a battery that is cheaper, faster charging and, at least in theory, more eco-friendly than anyone else. The fact that they are also actively looking to expand charging infrastructure to service such rapid charge rates shows that this is far from a gimmick. Their 007 EV and its Golden Battery show that the industry’s obsession with lithium-ion development may have led them astray. Instead, perhaps the future is powered by LFP. If that is the case, then surely Zeekr and its sister companies Lotus, Volvo and Polestar, who can all readily access this technology, are destined to take the EV crown.
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Sources: Electrek, Reuters, Autocar, Statista, Energy Storage News, Will Lockett, EV Database, EV Lithium, Science Direct, Electrive, Electrive, Power-Sonic, Arena EV, China Observer, Reuters, EV Database, Top Gear, Gas Goo, Tycorun, Visual Capitalist