Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD
There’s no doubt about the largest story in the industry since the start of the year in the UK, and possibly even Europe – the news that Britishvolt has entered administration. It is a collapse which has embarrassed the UK government and dented the country’s ambition as it tries to position itself as a viable base for the production of EVs, especially after the damage that Brexit has caused to the UK’s car industry.
Britishvolt was established in 2018 to build one of the largest battery production facilities in Europe to support the transition to electric vehicles by producing Li-ion batteries. In addition to the production of batteries with a capacity of up to 35 GWh per year, Britishvolt also planned to offer a range of services that would support the EV market, such as battery recycling and second-life battery storage. The company intended to build its gigafactory in Blyth, Northumberland.
Britishvolt had been working to develop its technology and secure funding for the gigafactory, which was initially predicted to produce its first batteries next year. The company had received a promise of support from the British government in the form of a grant of up to £100 million through the Automotive Transformation Fund if Britishvolt could meet set progress targets. Unfortunately Britishvolt never appeared close to meeting those targets. Instead, the management struggled to find the funding necessary to keep operations going before calling in the administrator, EY.
The gigafactory would have been a real boost to jobs and economic growth in the region, which is one of the economically deprived in the UK. It had been estimated to create more than 3,000 jobs during the construction phase and the same amount once the factory was operational, in addition to a further 5,000 jobs in the supply chain. Instead, the majority of the 300 members of staff were made redundant.
In the current economic climate, and with need for batteries for renewable generation and EVs, you’d expect there to be many buyers willing to take on the project. However, there has been very little interest in the company so far. At the time of writing, there seem to be no realistic prospects of a buyer at all. It looks like the administrators will try to sell off any assets owned by the company and creditors will only recover a very small proportion of their investment. However, by the time you read this, hopefully things will have changed and a buyer will have come forward.
The news of the Britishvolt collapse comes after what was a terrible year for the UK automotive industry. Only 775,014 cars were built in the country last year, which is the lowest figure since 1956 according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The data also found that production in 2022 was almost 10% below 2021’s figures and 41% down since 2019, the year before the pandemic.