UK edges towards national EV battery hub

The UK is moving towards creating a new national development hub for electric-car batteries with officials setting out plans for companies to work together to improve the technology, possibly paving the way for large-scale local production.

Representatives from politics, academia and business in the central English city of Coventry, the historic heart of the UK car industry, have pitched plans for a ‘National Battery Prototyping Centre’ which would focus on research and development and testing.

Local government officials set out their plans to create the centre, with state help, at an event on Tuesday attended by the business minister and by Ralf Speth, the CEO of the UK’s biggest carmaker, Jaguar Land Rover, who has said he wants to build electric models in the country.

‘We expect public money support for this facility,’ said Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands region of central England.

Backers of the plan will submit the proposals to ministers with the goal of securing a slice of government funding for new technologies recently announced by Britain’s Conservative government. A decision on the winning schemes is due soon after an 8 June general election.

Officials in the West Midlands hope their central location will make it a practical choice for a national centre and they say their plan could ultimately create 10,000 jobs. They gave no estimate of how much a new centre would cost.

Nissan already builds its electric Leaf at its north of England plant and BMW Group is due to decide by the end of the year whether to build a new electric Mini model at its plant in Oxford, although potential tariffs on vehicle exports after Brexit will be an important consideration.

Automakers are racing to build greener vehicles and improve charge times in a bid to meet rising customer demand and meet air quality targets but the UK lacks sufficient manufacturing capacity, an area ministers have said they want to build up.

The proposals, spearheaded by the Warwick Manufacturing Group which works with manufacturers and is based at Warwick University, go some way to meeting JLR’s needs with hopes the firm will commit to production in the future.

Business minister Greg Clark said, ‘The enthusiasm of everyone in the room, including JLR, to establish Coventry and the West Midlands as a test bed and place of innovation in battery storage is very evident and there’s huge commitment to that.’