Dr Andy Palmer: "Build batteries or lose UK car industry."

by Lawrence Allan, Autocar UK 20 Jan 2021


Dr Palmer: “Without electric vehicles’ batteries made in the UK, the country’s auto industry risks becoming an antiquated relic and overtaken by China, Japan, America and Europe.”

An urgent plan to build four battery ‘gigafactories’ in the UK within the next five years is vital to avoid losing the entire UK automotive industry, according to former Aston Martin boss and Nissan product planning chief Dr Andy Palmer, and currently chairman of UK-based electric bus maker Switch Mobility (previously Optare)

In an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Dr Palmer cited factors including the planned ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 but primarily stated that the Brexit trade deal presents a risk of “crippling tariffs” without UK-sourced batteries. 

The ‘rules of origin’ terms negotiated under the UK-EU deal stipulate that, by 2026, batteries for electric vehicles will only be allowed to contain 50% international content (components sourced from outside the EU) or face substantial tariffs bumping up the cost of the finished vehicle when exported. 

“Without electric vehicles batteries made in the UK, the country’s auto industry risks becoming an antiquated relic and overtaken by China, Japan, America and Europe”, Dr Palmer wrote, claiming the 800,000 UK jobs linked to the automotive sector would be at risk without well-established battery production. 

“Business sense dictates that the automotive industry will move to where the batteries are, and we are facing a tight race against the clock,” he continued. 

“Leaving the European Union provides us with opportunities to compete in the industries of the future. Yet as things stand, France, Germany and the wider EU are showing their intent by making massive investments in factories that produce batteries and electric vehicle components.” 

Palmer also states that it's “critical” the UK does this while creating its own battery chemistry capabilities, rather than licensing it from abroad. And while he is “encouraged” by the first proposed gigafactory being established in Blyth, Northumberland by start-up company Britishvolt, he states that more needs to be done. 

“I am urging you to establish a ‘Gigafactory Taskforce’ with the express purpose of identifying an achievable and ambitious plan that allows the UK to build the gigafactories needed in the next five years,” Palmer wrote. “Time is of the essence – and the British auto industry depends on it.”