• December 5, 2023

The UK’s EV push faces battery challenge

At Britishvolt’s construction site in Blyth, executive chairman Peter Rolton rattles off the location’s advantages.

Formerly a coal heap for a power station, it had plenty of low-cost land, with a suitable grid connection and a seaport next door for materials. An undersea Norwegian hydroelectric power line emerges from the ground across the road.

As an industry consultant, Rolton previously examined 150 potential UK sites. Only one scored perfectly in his evaluation, nowhere else came close.

“You are standing on it,” he said.

Even so, Britishvolt will not start production until 2024 – four years after selecting the site.

Other potential sites, like the one in Coventry with planning permission, will take longer because they need investments in their energy grid or lack available land.

Only Slovak startup InoBat is publicly looking at UK sites, plus others in the western EU. A decision is due this summer.

Aside from Nissan, the only automaker in Britain big enough to support its own large local battery plant is Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India’s Tata Motors.

“Obviously we will need to look at supplies in India as well as the UK,” Tata finance chief P B Balaji told reporters this month. “The source of that is already being discussed.”

Stellantis will make electric vans in Britain. It will rely on its three announced European battery plants and “additional supply contracts,” a spokesperson said.

BMW makes batteries in Germany for electric Minis produced in Oxford, southern England. A spokesperson said: “All other questions relate to the year 2030 and beyond.”

Toyota has not yet committed to making EVs in Britain.

Adrian Hallmark, CEO of Volkswagen Group’s UK-based Bentley unit, said a problem for Britain is that it produces a variety of vans, cars, SUVs and luxury models with different battery needs, whereas France, for example, produces similar-sized passenger cars that can support battery plants.

“If you have got to build six different types of battery in one gigafactory, it will never be economically viable,” he said.

Exporting batteries to Europe would be challenging because other countries have their own battery plans, he added.

Bentley will get batteries from northern Europe, but if “it was competitive in performance, quality and cost, we would absolutely be open to local sourcing,” Hallmark said.

While luxury automakers can afford to ship batteries from the EU, Switch Mobility’s Palmer said this would be too costly for the average car destined for the EU over the next decade.

“Inevitably the cheaper place to build will be in mainland Europe, particularly as most of our vehicles are destined for mainland Europe,” he said.

“So, I see it as an existential problem for Britain’s car industry.”