Italian iconic coachbuilder and design firm Pininfarina and start-up Britishvolt announced a collaboration to build the first UK EV Battery Giga-Factory. The project is set to bring the UK at the forefront of the automotive industry evolution to compete not only with the US’s Tesla Giga-Factory but also with numerous competitors that are increasingly crowding this space in Germany, Poland, and more.
The start-up Britishvolt founded just 8 months ago by Orral Nadjari in December of 2019 had a £1.2 billion investment planned to build the largest EV Battery industrial plant in the UK. According to the Financial Times, the company also looks to raise around £300 to £400 million most likely through a reverse takeover in 2021 with the rest of the necessary funds coming from debt and grants.
The selected site is the former RAF base of Bro Tathan near Cardiff. This choice is particularly significant as the new Giga-Factory will be located close to Aston Martin’s new production plant of St Athan. The new headquarter is not only dedicated to the production of the new SUV DBX, as it is happening right now with the activities gradually resuming after the lockdown period but also to all the future Aston Martin’s electric models.
This will be an important opportunity to create an industrial hub of EV Technology for British manufacturers which could also help to attract important foreign investment as the industry moves toward electrification. It is also something for the UK to maintain its status within the automotive industry and offset the potential negative effects of the Brexit. As Britishvolt’s chief strategy officer Isobel Sheldon said “Even if the demand on UK product is temporarily depressed because of the challenges of Brexit over the next couple of years, there’s still going to be plenty of business that we can supply into”.
The recently founded Faraday Institution in a report completed in mid-2019 and updated a few months ago claimed that the UK risks remaining behind the rest of Europe if it doesn’t update its EV battery production. According to the institution by 2040 the demand will be for up to seven giga-factories with a production capacity of 20 GWh each.
As of now, the UK has only a minor 2 GWh supplier which was previously owned and supplied Nissan in Sunderland. Due to market stagnation, now it risks around 130 workers layoffs out of the 400 total.
Also, back in 2018 Williams Advanced Engineering (part of the Williams Group which includes also the F1 team) formed a Joint Venture with Unipart Manufacturing Group, partner of Jaguar Land Rover, to build an EV Battery pack production facility near Coventry.
Britishvolt’s plan for a Battery pack Giga-Factory is aid by Italian Pininfarina.
The Italian design firm has heavily diversified its business for quite a few years now. Along with its core activity in cars and transportation vehicles design, it has entered the EV market with its own branded full-electric hypercar Battista, visible in detail here, developed with Croatian manufacturer Rimac. But the firm’s activity in sustainable mobility has stood for much longer. As for other ventures, Pininfarina has also started numerous other projects, ranging from real estate architectural design to aircraft and more. All with an eye on sustainability and low impact on the natural surroundings.
The priority for Britishvolt was to partner with a company with expertise in this field, that could design a facility that is both sensitive to its surroundings, as well as open and welcoming to the local residents.
The project is not only conceived to be the first carbon-neutral battery manufacturing plant but also to stand out from the crowd thanks to technological innovation and design beauty. From a marketing standpoint, this is also a great move for Britishvolt, considering Pininfarina’s name and status, as well as its now established presence in the EV mobility market ( in turn connected with another household name such as Rimac, mentioned previously).
With an initial workforce of 1,000 workers, the project is set to increase its capacity up to 35 GWh in the coming years. The new plant would make Britishvolt leader in the UK, but also a serious competitor on the global stage against other big players.
Up until now, the two “centres” of the world for EV Battery Production have been the US and Asia (specifically China, Japan, and Korea). With Tesla and Panasonic on one side and LG Chem, Samsung, CATL, and BYD on the other.
Lately, though, the competition is moving toward Europe, which so far, seemed to be left behind even if it is home to a large share of the major car manufacturers in the world. The lion share of this market anyway is still in the hands of three countries’ manufacturers: China, Japan, and Korea. According to a McKinsey Report, in 2018 less than 3 percent of the global demand was covered by manufacturers outside the three Asian countries.
Tesla is developing its presence in Europe with the Tesla Giga-Factory Berlin-Brandenburg, or Giga Berlin, which along with Tesla powertrains will produce battery packs. It is not clear yet though, which will be the capacity of the plant.
Samsung SDI is expanding its plant in Göd, Hungary with over $1 billion investment for a second factory that will bring the production up to 10 GWh.
LG Chem is building a plant in Wroclaw, Poland, predicted to open in 2022 and reach a maximum output of 70 GWh.
In Erfurt, Germany instead, the Chinese giant CATL who is set to supply Daimler, VW, BMW, and PSA, with a $2 bn investment by 2022 will complete its plant for a 14 GWh capacity.
SK Innovation, an energy, and chemicals company, and the third-largest conglomerate in Korea, has its own site in Europe too. In Komárom, Hungary, SK is realising a plant to supply 7.5 GWh within 2020, with plans to build a second one of the same capacity by 2022.
The first European player is the Swedish Northvolt (former SGF Energy). Its factory Northvolt Ett in Skellefteå, Sweden, set to open in 2021 will be completely powered by clean energy and by 2024 should supply 32 GWh with potential for expansion up to 40. In partnership with VW, Northvolt is also establishing a new plant in Salzgitter, Germany called Northvolt Zwei. Construction will start in 2021 with a completion date of 2024 and initial output of 20 GWh.
BYD also has its eye set on the European market.
By looking at all these large-scale projects set to be completed in the next one to four years, the market might look already very crowded. It is likely to experience fierce competition in the coming years, especially considering the strong bargaining power that the few large automakers will have with their partnership choice. The market projection up to 2040 by McKinsey though shows such an exponential growth that would allow for multiple players in this segment. The market growth according to them would be much larger than what was predicted by Faraday. The report, in fact, claims that the demand will grow up to a huge range between 0.7 and 1.5 TWh, equivalent to 45 and 95 Giga-factories.
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