The UK government has held talks with six manufacturers about building “gigafactory” electric car battery factories as part of its efforts to improve the outlook for the UK auto industry.
US automaker Ford and Korean electronics conglomerates LG and Samsung are among the companies that have had preliminary talks with the government or local authorities, it has been learned.
They add to discussions about a possible investment by Japanese automaker Nissan, as well as two efforts by small startups, InoBat and Britishvolt. The talks were first reported by the Financial Times.
Politicians, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as auto industry insiders, hope the UK can protect jobs in the sector by securing private business investment in ‘gigafactories’ – the name imagined. by Tesla boss Elon Musk for very large battery factories.
Estimates from the Faraday Institution, a government-backed body, suggest the UK will lose 100,000 jobs without gigafactories, as automakers move away from gasoline and diesel vehicles that make up the vast majority of UK car production.
Attracting investment has so far proved difficult. Britishvolt is the only company to have made public its plans to open a UK battery factory in Blyth, Northumberland, but it has yet to raise enough capital to build the plant and find customers.
The site chosen by Britishvolt would be close to Nissan’s Sunderland plant, which already produces batteries for its Leaf electric cars. Nissan has discussed a plan that would see production quadruple by 2024.
A government source warned that some of the talks about possible investments were still in their infancy.
Ford is considering sourcing batteries for its new Transit Custom van models. The company stopped production of cars in the UK in 2001, but manufactures engines for Transits at its factory in Dagenham, which are then shipped to Turkey.
One option being explored is to duplicate this relationship but with stacks, the Financial Times reported. Dagenham’s exports could benefit from the site’s inclusion in the Thames Freeport, which offers a range of tax benefits to investing companies.
A Ford spokesperson said a decision on battery supply would be taken closer to the launch of the new model in 2023.
Another candidate for a UK battery site is the West Midlands, traditionally the heart of British car manufacturing. JLR, based in Coventry and owned by India’s Tata, has yet to unveil its longer-term battery supply plans.
InoBat Auto is said to be in talks over a site at Coventry Airport for which the West Midlands Combined Authority has obtained a preventive building permit.
LG and Samsung have been approached for comment. InoBat declined to comment.