Only batteries have the power to save British carmaking | Automobile industry



TThe UK government’s over £ 100million pledge to secure Nissan’s gigantic battery plant for Sunderland has been like buying gadgets from Amazon at large: splurging on new technology that has suddenly become essential – then immediately be prompted to buy six more.

This time, however, the duplication of spending seems more reasonable. No more gigafactories – or big old battery factories – are not essential for the UK to switch to electric vehicle (EV) use. But they sure will be if Britain hopes to continue manufacturing, selling and exporting its own cars.

While Britain is considered advanced in battery science and research, manufacturing is not. The only existing electric vehicle battery installation in the UK is already that of Nissan, which supplies thousands of its best-selling Leafs. The £ 1 billion investment announced last week by Japanese automaker, battery partner Envision and the taxpayer heralds a first gigafactory, with nearly five times the capacity and potentially much more.

The industry says it’s welcome, but far from enough. Nissan’s deal could create 6,000 new jobs, but the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says 90,000 jobs are at risk without more giga-factories.

Driven by climate policy and Brexit, the industry is reorienting and scrambling to position itself. Batteries, a fundamental component of electric cars, are mainly produced in Asia, adding costs and subtracting value from European manufacturers.

David Bailey, professor of business economics at Birmingham Business School, says: “The industry is electrifying very quickly – we will see very rapid changes over the next five to ten years. The cost of batteries is more than 80% lower than a decade ago, when they averaged $ 1,000 per kilowatt hour. “Once the cost gets down to about $ 100 per kWh, you’ll get parity with the cost of the internal combustion engine.”

This tipping point is expected to be reached three to six years before the government mandates the phase-out of new gasoline and diesel cars in 2030, meaning electric vehicles will become a cheaper – as well as greener – option for consumers, who buy some 2 million cars a year. in UK only.

A Nissan Leaf, the company’s best-selling battery car, rolled off the Sunderland production line. Photography: Richard Saker / L’Observateur

“We’re going to need a lot of batteries,” says Bailey. “They are very heavy to move, so transportation costs are significant and the assembly of the cars is likely to gravitate to where the batteries are made.”

The other pressing factor is Brexit: the trade deal with the EU means that by the end of 2026 the battery will have to be manufactured in the UK or in the EU for an electric car produced in the UK in order to avoid tariffs. “With massive investment in giga factories in the EU, the UK is lagging behind.”

By 2025, the SMMT predicts that the UK will have only a fraction of the output of other countries: 12 gigawatt hours of lithium-ion battery capacity. This compares to 91 GWh in the United States, including the giant Tesla installation in Nevada, 32 GWh in France and 164 GWh in Germany.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Nissan could be the trigger for a “virtuous cycle” of new investment, although there are so far unfinished public plans for just one other UK gigafactory. – an installation for the startup Britishvolt on a site in Blyth. Ford is reportedly considering options, while Jaguar Land Rover’s plans may involve a gigafactory near its West Midlands manufacturing center.

As the industry demands levels of EU funding – € 3bn (£ 2.6bn) versus the £ 500m pledged in the UK – some suggest policy should change. Ben Nelmes, of the transportation think tank New AutoMotive, says: “A system like the one in California is pushing manufacturers to sell vehicles that are completely zero-emission, instead of hitting a steadily declining goal of grams of CO.2 per kilometer. This strong policy gave birth to Tesla – it allows companies to make those big investments by moving their production lines and manufacturing batteries. “

The importance of mass manufacturing of batteries goes beyond the automotive industry: it will also be crucial for the storage of green electricity, the production of which fluctuates with the wind and the sun.

The desire to manufacture batteries with renewable energies gives birth to innovation: the Nissan gigafactory will be accompanied by more solar and wind farms serving Sunderland, storing energy in recycled car batteries for the “microgrid” of the factory, the first of its kind in the UK.

Research in Britain is continuing on different types of batteries – “solid state” cells that may ultimately be cheaper than lithium-ion. But for now, only this latest technology is sufficiently developed for automobile production, and the race is on. “The real danger is that if we don’t make batteries in the UK we will probably lose our mass car industry,” Bailey warns. “We really have some catching up to do. “


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