The Faraday Institution is “the research vehicle for the ISCF Faraday Battery Challenge, which comprises a £274 million commitment to March 2021 to develop, design and manufacture world-leading batteries in the UK. The programme is split into three separate elements, delivered in parallel, to provide connectivity across research and innovation strands.” The three elements are research, innovation, and scale-up.
In a recent report, it says the lack of battery manufacturing in the UK could lead to the slow demise of the British automotive industry, taking up to 105,000 skilled jobs with it. On the other hand, the report claims, bringing battery manufacturing to the British Isles could add 50,000 jobs to the automotive sector.
“Over time, car production will migrate to where the battery production is,” Neil Morris, the Faraday Institution’s chief executive, tells The Guardian. “We’re at or near the fork in the road.” The report warns that in the absence of battery production facilities in the UK, car manufacturers built in the country could “gradually wind down their production of internal combustion engine vehicles, progressively eliminating the jobs of the 170,000 people directly employed in the UK automotive sector.”
Across the North Sea, France and Germany are pledging a €6 billion investment in battery production in order to protect their auto industries and the people who work in them. Volkswagen and Northvolt will collaborate on a battery factory in Sitzgitter, Germany. The European commission has also approved a separate plan by Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Sweden to spend €3.2 billion to create a European battery industry.
Brexit Rears Its Ugly Head
The Guardian says Brexit is one of the reasons battery makers are reluctant to invest in the UK at this time. While the nation is the fourth largest car manufacturer in the region, all of its major car manufacturing companies are owned by foreign corporations, many of whom are averse to making investments in their UK manufacturing arms until the long term trading relationship between the UK and the EU becomes clearer. Elon Musk has indicated publicly that Brexit worries were one reason Tesla decided to build its first factory on the other side of the Atlantic near Berlin instead of in the UK.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, which represents UK carmakers, agrees that the industry needs further investment. In a statement, it said, “As the global transition to zero emission transport gathers pace, we must ensure the UK remains an attractive place to design, build and sell electric vehicles. We already make some of the bestselling electric cars and taxis, but to maintain our manufacturing competitiveness and safeguard jobs for the future demands significant supply chain investment — securing large scale battery manufacturing capability will be essential to driving this.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, the UK could learn a lesson from Australia, which has seen virtually all of its domestic auto manufacturing sector shut down over the past few years, leaving it in the unenviable position of being a dumping ground for the cars foreign manufacturers can’t sell anywhere else.
Older readers may recall a time when British cars were highly prized in other countries, including the US. That was before the disastrous era of the Rootes Group and BMC destroyed the country’s reputation in the industry. The reason Volkswagen and BMW were able to pick up pieces of the once great British auto industry so cheaply is because they were able to swoop in and acquire companies like Rolls Royce, Bentley, and others for pennies on the dollar thanks to failed government policies and rampant mismanagement. Will the UK learn anything from that history? The odds seem to suggest otherwise.