Tsjisse Talsma for Quartz

The complete guide to the battery revolution

German ministers aren’t known for making exaggerated statements. So when, this past January, Anja Karliczek, the German government’s minister for education and research, said battery technology was an “existential” matter, she wasn’t stoking unfounded fears. Instead, she was boiling down the reality of what the German car industry needs to stay relevant in the future.

In the home of Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, the car industry makes Germany’s economic engine turn. It accounts for one-seventh of the country’s jobs, one-fifth of its exports, and one-third of its spending on research and development. But these giants of the internal-combustion engine era are facing a new challenge. As the world looks to clean up its cities and cut carbon emissions to fight climate change, it’s starting to pivot to battery-powered electric cars.

In 2018, Germany produced over 5 million cars (more than every country except China, the US, and Japan), but it still doesn’t have a battery gigafactory. Last month, construction began on the country’s first, which will manufacture batteries to sell to BMW. It’s being built by CATL, the world’s largest maker of lithium-ion batteries. In the heart of Germany’s proud auto industry, this important new player isn’t homegrown: the eight-year-old company, valued at $29 billion, is Chinese.

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