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UK was “sleeping” rather than building EV supply, says battery leaders
The latest news from the world of EVs
Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.
In today’s edition… Britain’s battery leaders warn of the country falling behind other nations, National Grid unveils recommendations for planning reform, and BP exits the home charging market.
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Battery leaders comment on state of UK
Background… Last Tuesday afternoon in Parliament, the Business and Trade Committee heard evidence from experts across the mineral industry about the manufacture of batteries for EVs in the UK. This included leaders from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, The Faraday Institution, Advanced Propulsion Centre UK, AMTE Power, Cornish Lithium, Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre, and the Critical Minerals Association. I was there to watch in person.
In short… Based on the testimony I heard, it’s quite clear the UK is in a bad place for manufacturing batteries. Some of the evidence provided to the committee was damming about the UK’s ability to compete, with many suggesting other nations (particularly China) had screamed ahead. Meanwhile, in our country, we’re yet to see gigafactories get off the ground. However, while quite negative, there is hope we can turn the tide. The key bits I noted from each expert are below… or read all the evidence here.
Benchmark… CEO Simon Moores suggested the UK’s critical minerals strategy was insufficient as it “needs to be driven by an industrial strategy to build electric vehicles and battery plants here”. Moores said we needed four gigafactories at least worth about £20 billion. When asked why we have missed the boat in the UK so badly, Moores said: “You have to question what the automotive companies in the UK are doing here. What are the big chemical companies in the UK doing here? They were not plugged into batteries when China was, when Japan was, when Korea was, when the US was and when the European Union was. What were the big UK automotive companies doing? What were the big chemical guys doing?” He later wrote in a punchy LinkedIn post over the weekend that the UK was “sleeping” and that some business leaders “didn’t understand or care” as the rest of the world built plants.
UK Critical Minerals Intelligence Centre… Director Paul Lusty suggested countries like the UK, US, Canada and Australia were coming together to develop critical mineral value chains outside China. However, that the challenge is “the ability of those countries to be competitive with China, looking at energy costs, the technology that resides in China and the very well-established value chains that the Chinese have built up over many decades.”
Critical Minerals Association… Founder Jeff Townsend gave an example of when China had “weaponised” its supply of batteries. “On 16 February, China put Lockheed Martin and part of Raytheon on its unreliable entities list, because they sold arms to Taiwan, so now those companies struggle with rare earths from China. It has been weaponised. In 2010, China did the same when a Chinese trawler went into Japanese waters.” Townsend added that they can “manipulate prices” as they “deem fit.”
AMTE Power… CEO of the UK battery manufacturer Alan Hollis made a comment that summarises the struggles facing many British innovative companies. “The attitude of the Government needs to change and to be far more supportive in helping businesses go through the valley of death. You have hit the nail on the head. The UK industry is brilliant at supporting innovation. Without the support from the UK Government, we would not have been able to develop the three very unique cell technologies that we have managed to develop. What we need is that extra support just to help bridge through this period of having the technology, commercialising the technology and then building the gigafactory.”
Faraday Institution… Chief Economist Stephen Gifford commented on rules of origin – which from 2024 will mean carmakers have to source 45% of EV materials from within the UK or EU – saying that they were “created in 2020, before the pandemic, the energy problems and the global hit of the recovery and inflation. That was not envisaged when the [Trade and Cooperation Agreement] was developed, so that has hit most markets quite hard. As a minimum, I would suggest an increased length of time for the transition period. Full implementation is in 2027, so pushing that back one or two years would give everyone breathing space.”
Cornish Lithium… CEO Jeremy Wrathall commented on the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) saying “Capital is far more incentivised to go to the US.” This is perhaps a wider UK business problem, not just for batteries. Wrathall also said: “It is far more advantageous to build a lithium supply chain in the US when some of the capital is put up by the Government. Geology is fixed and we cannot transport it. It is not so much about the ability but more about the capital to do it.” Wrathall also commented that the impact of not getting our UK supply chain sorted could impact 800,000 people’s jobs.
Advanced Propulsion Centre… CEO Ian Constance, who runs the administration of the Automotive Transformation Fund, commented that the collapse of Britishvolt was a “great disappointment”. He also made comments about the IRA saying it was having a “significant impact” on the UK. He commented: “We are seeing companies across this whole industrial picture, regardless of whether they are in batteries, other EV manufacturing or other bits of the supply chain, telling us every day that they are encouraged to go to the US because of the level of incentive that is on the table. Their investors are much less interested in supporting them in the UK.”
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Latest EV news…
GIGA FACTORY: Yesterday, Tesla CEO was in Paris with President Macron to discuss a ‘significant investment’ which is likely to be a new factory. According to Fred Lambert of Electrek, while France is likely a top choice, the UK will probably also be up there as a ‘top prospect’. Read more.
RIGHT CUT: Talking of Tesla, the firm has cancelled right-hand drive versions of its Model S and Model X for UK customers due to the complexity added by the conversion. Those customers with orders can either get the left-hand wrong-uns, £2,000 credit towards a Model 3 or Model Y, or just cancel, according to Autocar. See more.
FURTHER ROLE: Following the creation of ChargeUK, according to a LinkedIn post last week, Victoria Read, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Connected Kerb, confirmed she’d been elected Vice Chair heading up policy for the new industry body.
FRESH SIGNUP: Speaking of ChargeUK, while two weeks ago it launched with 18 members, a new company has now been added…. SSE Energy Solutions… whose name/logo now sits on their website as a founding member.
SWITCH UP: The EV campaign group, FairCharge, last week called on the government to change a law that currently means cars converted electric – aka. removing their internal combustion organs and placing them in a clean motor – still have to pay road tax as if they hadn’t been converted. Likewise, converted cars do not benefit from lower Benefit in Kind support and can be caught out by the ULEZ. This strange rule is potentially curtailing a really innovative (and growing) industry in the UK and should be changed. Quentin Willson, FairCharge founder, said: “I’ve written to the DVLA for this counter-intuitive law to be changed. They claim their hands are tied by The Treasury who insist that the original CO2 emissions declared by the manufacturer must always be retained even though the car has been converted to battery electric.” Read more.
GRID UNLOCK: The National Grid yesterday set out a case for “urgent reform to drive the energy transition”. The company published five recommendations for how grid networks can play a “role in achieving net zero”. They have called specifically for reforms on planning and the grid connection process. See here.
GRAND PLAN: The taxi firm, Uber, last week announced plans for all its London drivers to use EVs by the end of 2025 – which would make London Uber’s first all-electric location. Learn more.
NEW SITES: The rapid charging network, Osprey, last week opened several new sites across Bridgend and Hull.
BIG AIMS: Speaking of growing networks, the lamppost charging network, Char.gy, announced plans to reach 100,000 devices by 2030 – the firm currently operates 2,600. The news came as Char.gy appointed John Lewis as its new Chief Executive. One assumes their huge ambition is not being knowingly undersold... Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Read more.
MILESTONE MARKER: On the subject of lampposts, ubitricity last week revealed it had installed its 7,000th charger in the UK. The network remains one of the largest in the UK. Read more.
YOUR VIEW: Over the weekend, I had a smashing lunch out in Somerset and noticed these Andersen EV chargers (pictured). They are in the visitor car park. What struck me - and not for the first time - is the two different speeds on offer at a ‘destination’ type location (there were 2x 7kW, then 1x22kW). Is it best practice to have chargers of differing speeds at a location? Genuinely interested in people’s thoughts on this rather niche topic.
BIG NEWS: BP Pulse has decided to exit the home charging market, the company revealed last week. BP has said instead it wants to focus on public and fleet charging. This is actually interesting news for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it underlines how extremely competitive the home charger market has become. And, secondly, perhaps the penny finally dropped for BP that its charging operation was spread too thin. This can only be good news for public infrastructure. Read more.
HELP US: The industry group Logistics UK, whose members include big fleet managers, yesterday suggested that the sector could not continue to decarbonise without government support. Their CEO commented on a survey of members saying: “with respondents reporting wide ranging costs to upgrade their energy supplies to depots - between £100,000 and over £1m - a lack of meaningful scrappage schemes, acquisition costs on the rise and volatile energy prices, it is an uphill battle that cannot continue without increased support from government.” Read more.
CAR BATTLE: At last week’s FT Future of the Car summit, the CEO of Nissan warned about the rise of Chinese carmakers, suggesting it was piling pressure on manufacturers. Read more (paywall).
USED BANGERS: With all the talk about price drops of electric cars, I thought perhaps we might have seen a slight swell in the number of cheap used EVs. However, on Auto Trader, there are currently 24 available under £5,000 – when I last checked in January 2021, more than two years ago, there were 12. By comparison, there are 473 for sale over £100,000. More evidence that a used EV grant may be required.
NEW POLL: A survey of 2,000 adults by Peugeot has found that only 23% of UK motorists rate their understanding of EVs as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. Meanwhile, two in five suggested their knowledge was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Read more.
WAIT TIMES: If you’d just rather buy a new EV rather than go second-hand, Electrifying.com pulled together a helpful list of all the current wait times for different models last weekend. See here.
LOOK NORTH: This weekend it is the first-ever edition of Fully Charged North, located at the Yorkshire Event Centre in Harrogate. See the agenda here.
SMALL ELECTRIC: Finally, not too far away from Harrogate, Hull City Council ran a children’s EV kit car competition over the weekend. Primary school pupils were asked to construct a small EV and had to race them. Seems like a fantastic initiative. Read more.
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