Europe Wants to Compete With China's Battery Production, Eventually
Wary that China might have the battery market totally cornered by the time electric vehicles become mainstream, the European Union is trying to jumpstart the industry at home. This year, the EU has started working with manufacturers and financial institutions to develop a reliable supply chain of the lithium-ion packs that have been difficult to come by.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic is targeting 100 billion euros ($113 billion) for the program, which Bloomberg said would help the EU “act like China.”
While emulating China has its pitfalls, especially if you branch out of the automotive realm, procuring a reliable source of battery cells has proven challenging for the car industry. Currently, China has the lion’s share of global battery manufacturing capabilities. The United States comes in a distant second while Europe is in fourth, just behind South Korea, with 4 percent of the market. The EU hopes to match the United States by 2025 — the year most analysts claim EV sales will truly ramp up.
However, Europe is thinking like China in more ways than one. In addition to wanting to become a major automotive battery supplier, it has also set aggressive emission targets and is promoting EVs like mad. Some municipalities have even gone so far as to designate areas that will be forbidden to internal-combustion vehicles in the future. But there are reasons for the battery push that go beyond helping Mother Earth breathe a little easier.
With 13.8 million jobs representing 6.1 percent of employment linked to traditional auto manufacturing in the EU, Europe can’t afford to fall too far behind. Toss in fears that Europe’s auto market is wheezing and examples of major manufacturers pulling out of the continent and you have yourself the start of what many are identifying as a regional crisis. Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron said he wasn’t happy with a situation “where 100 [percent] of the batteries of my electric vehicles are produced in Asia.”
As a result, France and Germany (where the majority of Europe’s cars are built) are trying to accelerate the industry by any means possible. Sefcovic said the European Commission should be able to embrace the state-aid proposal as a special project by the end of October and the two nations are hoping to garner additional support from Spain, Sweden and Poland.
The goal is to build enterprises in Europe that could supply the region’s automakers without requiring imports from the major battery manufacturing centers in Asia. Currently, Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., or CATL, and BYD Co. dominate production in China. Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. is also building battery gigafactories in the U.S.
So far, Europe has no established battery supply chain, though it has drawn investment in local factories from Korean firms including LG Chem Ltd. and Samsung SDI Co. as well as CATL.
The new ambition of the commission is to stimulate companies big enough to supply the likes of BMW AG and Volkswagen AG, which plan a massive increase in electric car production. Across the industry, the outlook is for a rising portion of cars to run on batteries in the coming years.
The cash will be spread about liberally between manufacturers and parts suppliers, with no single entity getting more than what the EU deems to be its fair share. Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier believes the move could secure the 800,000 jobs in Germany alone. “There’s going to be huge demand in Europe for battery cells,” Altmaier said on ARD Television last month. “We must have the ambition to build the best battery cells in the world in Europe and Germany.”
Speculation on jobs and manufacturing capacity aside, Europe really does need to do something about it’s battery production — especially since it’s so fixated on shifting toward electric cars. Roughly a third of an EVs value can be attributed to its battery pack and with most of that money going to Asia, it’s no surprise the region is worried.
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