UK in talks to build battery ‘gigafactories’ for electric cars

Ford, LG and Samsung among companies in discussions with government and local authorities

The UK government has held talks with six manufacturers about building “gigafactory” electric car battery plants as part of its efforts to improve the prospects of the British automotive industry.

The US carmaker Ford and the Korean electronics conglomerates LG and Samsung are among the companies that have had early-stage discussions with the government or local authorities, it is understood.

They add to talks over possible investment by the Japanese carmaker Nissan, as well as two efforts by smaller startups, InoBat and Britishvolt. The talks were first reported by the Financial Times.

Politicians including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, as well as automotive industry insiders, are hopeful the UK can protect jobs in the sector by securing investment from private companies in “gigafactories” – the name dreamed up by the Tesla boss, Elon Musk, for very large battery factories.

Estimates from the Faraday Institution, a government-backed body, suggest the UK will lose out on 100,000 jobs without gigafactories, as carmakers switch from the petrol and diesel vehicles that constitute the vast majority of British automotive output.

Attracting investment has so far proven difficult. Britishvolt is the only company that has made public its plans to open a UK battery factory, in Blyth, Northumberland, but it must still raise enough capital to build the plant as well as finding customers.

The chosen Britishvolt site would be close to Nissan’s Sunderland factory, which already produces batteries for its Leaf electric cars. Nissan has discussed a plan that that would see production quadruple by 2024.

A government source cautioned that some of the talks about possible investment were still at an early stage.

Ford is considering where to source batteries for its new Transit Custom van models. The company stopped production of cars in the UK in 2001, but makes engines for Transits at its Dagenham plant, which are then shipped to Turkey.

One option under consideration is to duplicate that relationship but with batteries, the Financial Times reported. Exports from Dagenham could benefit from the site’s inclusion in the Thames freeport, which offers a range of tax breaks to companies who invest.

A spokesperson for Ford said a decision on battery sourcing would be made closer to the new model’s launch in 2023.

Another contender for a UK battery site is the West Midlands, traditionally the heartland of UK carmaking. Coventry-based JLR, owned by India’s Tata, has not yet disclosed its plans for longer-term battery sourcing.

InoBat Auto is reportedly in talks about a site at Coventry airport for which the West Midlands Combined Authority has secured pre-emptive planning permission.

LG and Samsung were approached for comment. InoBat declined to comment.

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Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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