Almost a decade after playing home to Europe’s first mass-produced electric car, the UK is at risk of becoming a footnote in the global auto industry’s shift to battery-powered vehicles.
The UK lacks the battery cell and packaging factories automakers will need to support their transition away from the internal combustion engine. In what could be a fresh blow to British carmaking, the country’s top auto manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover, is in talks with Northvolt and SVolt Energy about supplying batteries for a range of EVs it may assemble in Slovakia, according to people familiar with the matter.
Unless battery investment picks up, automakers may only accelerate their exodus from what was once the world’s second-biggest auto manufacturing base. The last few years, the UK fell outside the top 15.
Mostly unrelated to long-term issues, the UK’s car production fell 11 percent in April, Reuters reported Thursday, because of persistent chip shortages and supply chain issues made worse by the Ukraine crisis.
Soaring energy prices and slowing global markets have only piled more pressure on the car industry, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major hub for automotive parts, has left many automakers scrambling to find alternative sources.
“It’s about to be too late to preserve the UK role as a major automotive producer,” said Andy Palmer, the former CEO of Aston Martin who also helped spearhead Nissan’s creation of the Leaf EV built in Sunderland, England. “Unless there is either a carrot or a stick to incentivize battery production in the UK, it’s only a matter of time before the automobile industry here becomes a niche industry that caters to brands such as Rolls-Royce and Bentley.”
As the move to electric vehicles redraws manufacturing maps, the UK is endangered by scarce supply of raw materials, expensive energy, meager government incentives and potential Brexit-related tariffs. While the country has pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into battery-technology research, this has spurred minimal production.
To date, the UK has just one major plant in operation, owned by China’s Envision Group. The manufacturer added production of longer-range packs for Nissan Leaf EVs last year and announced plans to expand, though not until 2024 at the earliest.
A spokesperson for Jaguar Land Rover, which produced more than 220,000 vehicles in the UK last year, said the manufacturer continues to explore all options for EV battery supply, and that no decisions have been made. Representatives for Northvolt and SVolt declined to comment.