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300% spike in lithium battery imports; value too up from $384 million to $1.2 billion
A burgeoning cell phone industry has pushed India’s lithium battery imports by 300% in 2018-19 compared to 2016-17, while the electric vehicle (EV) market is expected to further boost this in the next few years. Official data on the import of lithium batteries shows that imports jumped to 71.2 crore units worth $1.2 billion in 2018-19 from just 17.5 crore units worth $384 million in 2016-17. And, in the first eight months of this financial year (2019-202), India has seen 45 crore units worth $929 million imported already. Analysts and experts TOI spoke with, while stressing that major demand has been from the smartphone market recording consistent growth, which also adds demand through power-less chargers (power banks), said that there are other industries too that have increased consumption. Neil Shah, partner and research director of devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research, told TOI: “Smartphones certainly lead the way. Last year we sold 158 million pieces, which was about 30% more than we sold in 2016-17. With the average selling price of phones increasing they come with better features, and if you look at the average size of the battery today, it is about 3,000mAh, which has also grown by more than 20% in this period.” In India, the manufacturing of mobile phones and components has been steadily moving from Semi Knocked Down (SKD) to Completely Knocked Down (CKD), which means there has been more value addition domestically. According to data submitted by the government in the Lok Sabha, production of “cellular mobile handsets has gone up from Rs 18,900 crore (6 crore units) in 2014-15 to Rs 1.70 lakh crore (29 crore units) in 2018-19.” Further, as announced by the government earlier, it aims to, as part of the National Policy on Electronics (NEP-2019), produce 1 billion mobile handsets by 2025, valued at $190 billion, including 600 million mobile handsets valued at $10 billion for export. Shah also said that the EV market will have an impact in the next couple of years, which will further boost the demand for lithium batteries. Other experts echoed his voice, while also adding that power inverters, toys market — which is large unorganised — powerless vacuum cleaners and such have also seen an increase in consumption of lithium batteries. J Crasta, national executive member, Federation of Indian Industries and Commerce (Ficci), said: “Bajaj is already getting into the EV space, even Maruti-suzuki has plans and we already have big firms like Mahendra in the business. If the mobile phone industry pushed demand in the last few years, you will the EV business driving demand in the next few. Of course, smartphones will continue to consume such batteries, but EVs will grow.” In this regard, the Niti Aayog, as has been reported last month, is convincing the government to consider granting subsidies to at least 10 big factories that would take up production of lithium batteries.