Collapse of Britishvolt could lead to exodus of electric car industry. Subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE to hear more!
Securing local sources of supply for car batteries is seen as crucial to the domestic Electric Vehicle industry, and any manufacturing delays could lead to continued reliance on imports.
The UK could face its biggest exodus of electric vehicle companies after an Australian start-up bought defunct Britishvolt. This week Recharge Industries officially bought Britishvolt, the company that built a £4bn electric car battery manufacturing plant in Northumberland but collapsed and went into administration after running out of funds.
The gigafactory plan had been hailed as a crucial component of the UK’s burgeoning Electric Vehicle industry, particularly important given the looming ban on new petrol and diesel cars. While Recharge Industries’ purchase of the site appears to have kept the UK’s gigafactory hopes alive, Ben Kilbey, who was Director of Communications at Britishvolt, said that is not without risks.
That is partially because the new owners have said that before using the prime site in Blyth in the northeast for Electric Vehicle purposes, they will first be focusing on batteries for energy storage.
The company hopes to have these products available by the end of 2025. Only then does the Australian company plan to produce batteries for high-performance sports cars.
Mr Kilbey, now Director of Strategic Communications at Fruitlab, said: ”The fact the initial product is said to be stationary storage means there is still a real threat of the UK automotive industry migrating to other countries with more attractive Electric Vehicle incentives, right now that’s looking like a flood of business heading to the US.”
But he did not blame the company for taking this plan of action as this seems like a “sensible way to help meet ambitions and take a huge amount of risk off the table as the company scales. Where would humanity be if it wasn’t for ambition and grit?”
Meanwhile, another “potentially clever part of the narrative is that the Australian owners will be licensing US technologies, further strengthening relationships in the race to zero”.
Mr Kilbey added: “All businesses need revenue and customers to survive, that’s just a simple dynamic of basic market forces. I read recently that the UK is a real contender in the stationary battery business, so producing them at scale seems to be a good choice of first product.”
However, securing local sources of car batteries is seen as crucial to the domestic Electric Vehicle industry. Delays in manufacturing could pose a risk of continued reliance on imports.
Britishvolt’s former executive chairman previously explained: “The UK automotive industry needs a local source of batteries. Chinese or other Asian imports are not going to be an option. There will be very, very significant shortfalls of batteries. We are absolutely vital to maintain the UK industry and support those jobs.” It also raises the question of how Recharge could succeed when Britishvolt failed due to a lack of battery experience, proven technology, customers and sales. As Recharge’s experience with Britishvolt’s manufacturing is also very similar.
But Mr Kilbey said: “The fact of the matter is, seemingly, industrial policy in the UK isn’t conducive to bringing the established battery brands to the country, regardless of having the best site.
“Once again we are seeing the fight coming from the less established parts of industry, who see the bigger picture. Is it a concern? Depends on how you look at it, but from where I sit an Australian and UK trade partnership is far from concerning, and instead rather exciting. “Britishvolt had many external negative factors as headwinds, as well as its own internal challenges. For me, using or licensing existing tech to get going, and then potentially looking at other chemistries in-house for automotive, seems a logical way to grow a business and reduce costs and de-risk.
“The more de-risked the easier it will be accessing money on the financial markets, both equity and debt. Plus the whole Australia and UK narrative is perfect for energy security and decoupling and hedging against global supply chain volatility and the dominance of China in the Electric Vehicle and battery supply chains.”
Recharge Industries themselves emphasized the importance of keeping Britishvolt “in the hands of friendly nations”. It was funded by New York investment firm Scale Facilitation.
David Collard, Scale Facilitation’s founder and chief executive told the Australian Financial Review: “Strengthening our friends in the UK, especially when most others are kicking them when they’re down, is in our interest and definitely in the spirit of Australia, UK and US security pact Aukus.
“Keeping Britishvolt viable and in the hands of friendly nations and companies is critical to the security of British and European supply chains and advanced manufacturing capabilities.”
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