It is hard to overstate the almost supernatural ability of Elon Musk to see the future and act on his instincts. Nearly a decade ago when electric cars first became a thing, Elon was already gearing up to make the batteries and install the charging network that would power the electric car revolution. Only now are others coming to the same realization Musk had a decade ago.
Panasonic & Toyota Form New Battery Partnership
So far as anyone can tell, Toyota has zero interest in manufacturing battery electric cars. It is all in on hybrids and plug-in hybrids and still dazzled by the promise of hydrogen fuel cells. In essence, it has chosen to sit on the sidelines because of a corporate-wide belief that current lithium-ion battery technology will soon be outmoded as new solid state technologies come along. Why hitch your wagon to a falling star?
Toyota and Panasonic announced this week they have formed a new partnership known as Planet Energy and Solutions. According to Forbes, it will work on prismatic batteries they intend to sell to other automakers. Prismatic batteries are square rather than cylindrical. The new business will initially employ more than 5,000 people and Toyota will own 51% of it while Panasonic will own the remaining 49%.
“Batteries — as solutions for providing energy for automobiles and other forms of mobility, and as solutions for various kinds of environmental issues — are expected to fulfill a central role in society going forward,” the companies said in a press release. The two companies have been cooperating on battery research since 1996.
The EU Is Ready To Take Battery Manufacturing Seriously
At the beginning of the modern electric car age, it was assumed auto manufacturers would make their own batteries. Then the thinking changed as the car companies realized what a massive and expensive challenge it was to make batteries, and then ceded the playing field to battery companies. But that led political leaders in Europe to worry that foreign companies would soon control the battery supply. They had good reason to be concerned, as CATL, LG Chem, BYD and others all announced plans to build European battery factories.
In response, the French and German governments announced last week a major new initiative to build European-owned battery factories in both countries, according to the Los Angeles Times. Germany and France “want to build the best and most sustainable batteries” in Europe, said Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Economy and Energy Minister, in a statement from Berlin on Friday. “I’m convinced that battery cells made in Kaiserslautern will set new standards in their CO2 footprint.”
Kaiserslautern is where Groupe PSA-Opel and Total’s Saft Groupe will build a new battery factory at a cost of about €2 billion. To be known as the Automotive Cell Company, that factory is expected to begin production in 2024 and employ 2,000 workers.
Another factory will be constructed in the Hauts de France region in the northeast corner of the country near the border with Belgium. That facility will be known as the Automotive Cell Company and will cost about 2 billion euros. In an announcement about the new factory, French president Emmanuel Macron said, “We need to be able to produce our batteries; this is a matter of industrial sovereignty and the reduction of CO2 emissions,” according to Electrive.
The Europeans are getting a late start in the competition to build battery cells for electric cars, an industry that is expected to be worth as much as €25 billion a year by the middle of this decade. That means there will be a lot of money to be made for somebody and the Europeans want to make certain a significant portion of the profits remain in Europe.
This is all good news for the EV revolution, which will rely on a steady supply of reasonable priced batteries as the transition to electric transportation moves forward.