Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

The NEOM mega-city is part of plans to transform the Saudi economy. Reuters text, Caption text. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

  • Author and global strategist Parag Khanna held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status”
  • In his recent book “Connectography,” he said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants

BEIJING: Saudi Arabia has the potential to develop “super cities” in the Kingdom, but must pay careful attention to the economic fundamentals behind such projects, according to global strategist and author Parag Khanna.

Speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, Khanna told Arab News: “When you are building a city from scratch, you have to be certain of the plan. What is the economic master plan? How self-sustaining will the city be? What will people living there do for a living?”

The Kingdom is planning the mega-city NEOM on the northwest coast, as well as several other developments, under the Vision 2030 strategy to transform the economy.

Khanna, author of the recent book “Connectography,” said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants. In Saudi Arabia, only Riyadh had surpassed that figure in a single conurbation.

“The way to make up the difference is to create “smart” cities that will increase connectivity and living standards,” Khanna said. He held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status,” adding “for the first time in a long time, other Arab cities are looking at another Arab city as a model of the kind of city they would like to live in, rather than a city outside the Arab world.”

Khanna said that he did not know enough about plans for NEOM and other Saudi projects to know whether they would be successful in reaching “super city” status. “I’d have to kick the tires,” he said, pointing to developments along the Red Sea coast like the King Abdullah Economic City and the regeneration of Riyadh as other potentially successful urban projects. 

Super cities are conurbations that drive economic growth and improvement in living standards. “Urbanization has been the single greatest factor in improving the human condition,” Khanna said.

The Arab world and South America have historically been urban dominated, but the drive to city building recently has gathered pace in China and India.


LG Chem separates battery business as electric cars take off

Updated 18 September 2020

LG Chem separates battery business as electric cars take off

SEOUL: South Korea’s LG Chem, an electric car battery supplier for Tesla and GM, said that it plans to separate its battery business into a new company as the electric vehicle market takes off.

The move came after LG Chem swung to a profit in its car battery business in the latest quarter. It expects further profitability thanks to growing demand from European car makers and more sales of cylindrical batteries used in Tesla cars.

LG Chem, South Korea’s top petrochemicals maker, has long bet on car batteries as a new growth engine, but it has never made an annual profit in the business since it started making them about a decade ago.

But expectations are growing for its car battery business as automakers push for more electric vehicles, fueled by Tesla’s rise and tougher emissions regulations in Europe.

LG Chem said the timing was right to separate the business, which competes with China’s CATL and Japan’s Panasonic, as it has started to make “structural profits” in its car battery business.

LG Chem said the new business, to be launched in December, aims to achieve a revenue of 30 trillion won ($25.5 billion) or more in 2024, from an expected revenue of 13 trillion won this year.

The new wholly owned subsidiary, tentatively named “LG Energy Solutions,” will include LG Chem’s small batteries used in smartphones and laptops and its energy storage systems, as well as its car batteries. LG Chem shares slumped 5.4 percent.

“Many LG Chem investors will only indirectly hold the battery business, which will be separated into a unit,” Daeshin Securities analyst Han Sang-won said.

He also said that investors are also taking profits ahead of Tesla’s battery day, in which Tesla may unveil its advanced battery technologies.

LG Chem said it will consider a stock market listing of the battery unit, without elaborating further.

Making the unit an independent company would also help to attract investments to the business, which requires heavy capital expenditure to expand production capacity as orders pile up, LG Chem said.