France to open first electric car battery factory to match China

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solo1 June 2023Last Update : 4 months ago
France to open first electric car battery factory to match China

The “gigafactory” in northern France will be one of the first plants in Europe to make batteries for electric cars, a region traditionally dominated by China.

France is inaugurating its first factory to make batteries for electric cars as part of the government’s ambitions to “reindustrialize” the country and catch up with Chinese manufacturers in the fast-growing industry.

The plant, opening in Billy-Barclau in the north of France, is owned by Automotive Cell Co., a partnership between French energy giant Total Energy, Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis, which owns brands including Peugeot, Fiat and Chrysler.

CEOs of the companies and French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Ranacher, Industry Minister Roland Lescure, and Italian and German officials were on hand to attend the opening of the “Gigafactory”, which will be 640 meters tall and 100 m wide.

“It is the first time in decades that an industrial sector has been rebuilt in France from almost zero,” said the French economy ministry.

Huge connected machines will flatten, cut and stack sheets of aluminum coated with a paste of rare minerals – the basis of these battery cells – which will then be assembled and filled with electrolytes by workers in white coats in spotless rooms.

Production is due to start in the summer, with first sales scheduled for late 2023.

car industry change

The opening marks the car industry’s forced shift towards electrification, with a great deal of public support, in preparation for an EU ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035.

ACC Group, which bills itself as the “Battery Airbus”, will be one of the first in Europe to produce them.

This will be followed by four other battery plants in France, all located in the Hauts-de-France region, where an ecosystem is emerging that elected representatives and industrialists have dubbed “Battery Valley” – a Silicon Valley for electric cars Industry response.

Sino-Japanese group AESC-Envision, near Douai (Nord), plans to supply Renault Electricity from early 2025, Grenoble-based start-up Verkor will produce in Dunkirk from mid-2025, and Taiwanese group ProLogium It aims to start production at the end of 2026 for its first plant abroad.

In total, around 50 projects of this type have been announced across Europe in recent years.

The stakes are high: Europe does not want to become overly dependent on Asian suppliers, especially the Chinese, who are 10 to 20 years ahead in this area.

The French government has set a target of producing 2 million electric vehicles a year in France by 2030, as Burcy points out, estimating that ACC alone should produce enough to equip 500,000 vehicles by then .

uphill battle

France is aiming to supply its automotive industry with enough batteries assembled in the country by 2027 – and wants to export French batteries after that.

But it is still handicapped by the cost of its energy compared to China and the United States, which heavily subsidize the industry.

As a sign of public support, the group has received over €1.2 billion in public funding, including €845 million in French aid, out of a total investment of €7 billion in various ACC sites, including the Billy-Barclau plant, A research center in Charente and two future plants in Germany and Italy are planned.

But the lithium-ion technology used in ACC’s first line still requires strategic metals whose supply chains are largely dominated by China — lithium, nickel and manganese.

The transition also represents a huge social challenge, with tens of thousands of job losses predicted according to trade unions and employers’ organisations, while Battery Valley needs to recruit and train more than 20,000 people within a few years.

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