Reports that Jaguar Land Rover are in talks with Swedish and German battery makers could hit Britishvolt and Envision.
Jaguar Land Rover is in talks with Swedish battery maker Northvolt and the German subsidiary of Chinese company Svolt to supply batteries for a range of electric vehicles built at its factory in Nitra, Slovakia, Bloomberg reported this week.
Such a decision would be a blow to UK start-up Britishvolt, which hopes to start producing batteries at its factory in Blythe, Northumberland, by 2023. It could also be a blow for Envision AESC, which is working with its customer Nissan on a major expansion of its battery plant in Sunderland. It could also halt plans for a battery factory at a former Airport in Coventry.
A spokesperson for Jaguar Land Rover said: “It has not yet been decided where we will source batteries.” So far, the company has been sourcing batteries ahead of its wider electric vehicle rollout, with the electric Range Rover and Range Rover Sport in 2024.
Jaguar Land Rover, currently the UK’s largest carmaker, has the option to spread its battery purchases across a number of companies to secure supply. This means it can still look to UK companies for batteries for production at its Solihull and Merseyside factories.
Chief executive Zhang Lei said Envision AESC, the company that supplies the battery packs for the new Nissan Leaf replacement to be built in Sunderland, has been in talks with Jaguar Land Rover about supplying battery packs too.
Jaguar Land Rover is the UK factory’s preferred target because its independence allows it to chart its own battery route and it needs sizable battery packs for its larger vehicles.
Meanwhile, other carmakers in the UK will be bound by the strategies set by their parent companies. Bentley, for example, will initially comply with the procurement requirements of its direct parent Audi within the Volkswagen Group. “Our commitment is to find as many synergies as possible within the group to ensure the security of our supply,” Bentley chief executive Adrian Hallmark said about whether it would consider Envision or BritishVolt batteries. But he doesn’t rule out future connections. He said “If we find better technologies from other suppliers in the next four or five years, whether it’s solid-state batteries or better performing batteries, we’ll definitely be watching them.”
Britishvolt secured funding to become a strategic supplier after raising £1.7bn from investors and £100m from the government in February. The company also outlined plans to manufacture batteries using high-performance NMC chemistry (which stands for nickel, manganese and cobalt, the building blocks of the cathode) and LFP (lithium iron phosphate) cells for commercial vehicles.
Graham Hoare, president of global operations at Britishvolt, said earlier this year. “We’ll be happy with the combination of luxury and business clients, at least for starters. The sales of these really premium brands are not significant, but together they do matter.”
The difficulty for the UK battery industry is knowing who will still be around when we actually flip the switch on electric vehicles before we ban internal combustion engines in 2030. (Some hybrids will last until 2035.) It was reported in April that Toyota had threatened to withdraw car production from Derbyshire and engine production from Deeside due to government demands. Toyota denies this is the case.
A Toyota spokesperson said in a statement, “We are focused on achieving a long-term and sustainable future, including for our UK plants, as we move towards our ultimate goal of securing carbon neutral operations,” .
UK car production fell sharply, from 1,722,698 in 2016 to 850,575 last year. Chip shortages have artificially depressed the number, but the overall trend before the pandemic has declined, raising concerns that the country no longer has enough numbers to create the supplier ecosystem needed for sustained growth. Part of the problem, says Bentley’s Hallmark, is that the models built here are so diverse. “The UK is nowhere near competitive enough to be part of the global supply base,” he added.
Batteries are slightly different, as one chemical can cover a range of vehicles. Battery factories in Europe are also consolidating in high-cost countries like Germany (Svolt is building plants) and Sweden (Northvolt), as concerns over security of supply, job replacement and access to green energy outweigh the pricing itself. If the UK tackles high energy prices, it can compete on cost.
A major problem for a company like Jaguar Land Rover is finding high-quality, high-energy batteries from suppliers with good access to raw materials. They must be of European origin to comply with the new rules of origin laid out in our trade agreement with the EU. They do not need to fly the Union Jack. To do this, UK suppliers need to compete with the best in the world or find the next big thing in battery technology and industrialise it.
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