Monday, January 29, 2018

Electric Vehicle Battery Factory Race Heats Up in Europe

NorthVolt battery cell factory RD center (Credit: NorthVolt) Click to Enlarge.
“In February 2016 Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche ruled out investing in battery-cell production for electrified powertrains because supply was already exceeding demand.  ‘The dumbest thing we could do is to add to that overcapacity,’ he said,” as reported by Automotive News Europe on January 2, 2017.

“Less than a year later, Volkswagen Group is signaling the exact opposite concern as it sizes up contenders for one of its biggest contracts in recent history:  cell supplier for cars that will be underpinned by its forthcoming MEB electric platform.  ‘The capacity is not there.  Nobody has the capacity,’ Thomas Sedran, VW’s head of group strategy, said last month of the six largest global cell suppliers competing for the contract.”

What a difference a year makes!  Or perhaps one automaker had a bad estimate of coming demand?  Or perhaps it’s a marketing and communications game?

Mercedes has partnered with SK Innovation and abandoned its own in-house efforts, but as recently as last year, it appeared to take a multiple-source approach.

“Daimler quit making its own cells in December 2015 when it shut down its Li-Tec unit in Germany, citing costs,” Automotive News Europe added.  “Zetsche said that Daimler had the best cell available but that this advantage was worthless because customers couldn’t feel the difference.  Today, Daimler ‘pursues a competitive multiple supplier strategy’ for cells and will concentrate instead on building the pack around them at its Accumotive division in Kamenz, Germany, where it is constructing a second plant.  ‘The intelligence of the battery does not lie in the cell but in the complex battery system,’ Zetsche said.

A major South Korean manufacturer, Reuters noted in August 2017 that “SK Innovation supplies batteries to Mercedes-Benz, South Korea’s Kia Motors as well as China’s BAIC Motor Corp.”

Other reporting from November 2017:  “The South Korean EV battery maker said it is set to break ground on a 840 million-won plant in Hungary in February.  The 430,000-square-meter plant is capable of producing EV cells with a combined 7.5 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year, beginning in 2020.”  That factory entailed an investment of approximately $777 million.

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