UK startup Britishvolt filed for the UK’s equivalent of bankruptcy on Tuesday, letting go of all but a couple dozen employees as the three-year-old company struck a major blow to the country's hopes of building a home-grown battery industry.
“I would call it an unmitigated disaster for the auto industry in the UK,” Andy Palmer, the former Aston Martin CEO, said Wednesday on BBC radio.
“Ultimately, British car manufacturing will migrate to where the battery factories are, which is going to be in central Europe.”
The startup, which struggled to raise funds for a major electric-vehicle battery factory in northern England, failed to get past the stage of developing prototypes for an industry that is vital for the UK’s prospects in the global race to become self-sufficient in EV technology.
It has left the UK sorely lacking the battery manufacturing capability that would be absolutely critical to the auto industry’s future. Industry experts estimate Britain needs four to six large battery plants to sustain a healthy car industry. Currently it has one small 1.9 gigawatt-hour Nissan plant in Sunderland, northeast England.
Nissan is building a second 9 GWh plant at the same location with Chinese partner Envision AESC, which could expand to 25 GWh.
In the wake of Britishvolt’s downfall, a House of Commons select committee opened an inquiry into the viability of EV battery manufacturing in the UK.
The committee will find little reason for optimism.
BMW ceased making electric Mini hatchbacks at its 110-year-old facility near Oxford in October, shifting production to China.
When Tata Motors-owned Jaguar Land Rover — the UK’s top car producer — laid out ambitions in early 2021 to electrify its lineup within a few years, the manufacturer warned that its Castle Bromwich plant employing almost 2,000 people may be left without any models to make.
The lone major manufacturers to have announced sizable investment in UK battery and EV making are Nissan and Envision AESC.
The two are setting up a 1 billion pound ($1.2 billion) hub in Sunderland, home to one of the Japanese car company’s biggest plants in the world, to produce as many as 100,000 electric crossovers and the cells powering those vehicles.