Tata to build battery ‘gigafactory’ in the UK

The Tata Group will build its first battery cell factory outside India in the UK. The British government has now officially confirmed what had already become apparent.

At the beginning of February, it became known that Tata Motors was looking for a location for its European battery cell factory in Spain or the UK. However, according to a BBC report, it had already become clear at the end of May that the UK site in Bridgewater in the southwestern English county of Somerset was to be the favorite.

The exact location of the UK cell factory is not named in the British government’s announcement, but the fact that Tata will locate a large cell production plant in the country and not in Spain is confirmed. According to the report, the Indian company will invest more than £4 billion (some €4,6 billion) in the battery cell factory, which is expected to create up to 4 000 direct jobs.

The factory is scheduled to go into operation in 2026 with an initial annual capacity of 40 GWh. It will supply cells to JLR’s future BEV models and other car manufacturers.

Not only for cars

According to the joint announcement by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office and Kemi Badenoch’s Department of Trade and Industry, the new ‘gigafactory’ will supply almost half of the battery production needed by 2030, driving the UK’s shift to zero-emission vehicles.

According to the British university center Faraday, the UK will need a supply of 100 GWh by 2030 to satisfy the battery needs, which will grow to 200 GWh in 2040. The center insists that the UK must accelerate its investments in electric infrastructure.

In the official UK government statement, it is regarded as “one of the biggest investments ever in the UK automotive industry”. In its announcement, Tata states that the investment includes solutions for electromobility and stationary energy storage, which means not only for electric cars.

No details

There are no details yet on the type of battery cell, such as the format, cell chemistry, or the planned supply chain. In the announcement, Downing Street does refer to the Automotive Transformation Fund (developing an internationally competitive supply chain for electric vehicles in the UK) and the Advanced Propulsion Center (research and private investment in new supply chains for low-carbon vehicles).

The statement also omits the question of whether and to what extent Tata will receive subsidies. There has been a tough battle between Spain and the UK to get the contract, and undoubtedly financial compensation will be included, but the future will tell how it has been composed. In May, the newspaper Financial Times talked about €575 million in UK subsidies asked by Tata Motors.

“Our multi-billion pound investment will bring state-of-the-art technology to the country, helping to power the automotive sector’s transition to electric mobility, anchored by our own business, Jaguar Land Rover,” said Natarajan Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons.

“With this strategic investment, the Tata group further strengthens its commitment to the UK, alongside our many companies operating across technology, consumer, hospitality, steel, chemicals, and automotive,” he added.

Not a surprise

It doesn’t surprise that Tata Motors chose the UK for its first investment in battery production outside India. Despite (or thanks to) the colonial heritage, the links between the UK and its former colony are still strong. The fact that Tata Motors is already involved in many areas in the UK is also crucial.

And then there is Jaguar Land Rover, Tata’s UK-based automotive crown jewel. Jaguar may be in a dip for now, but it will need plenty of batteries when it starts to launch its fully electric model portfolio beginning in 2025.

In the meantime, the Land Rover part of JLR is performing exceptionally well, so JLR is contributing again to the much better financial results of Tata Motors compared to past years.

Won a battle, not the war

Apart from Tata, there’s another significant investment in battery production in the UK. The Chinese battery specialist Envision AESC is constructing another ‘gigafactory’ in cooperation with the Japanese car manufacturer Nissan in Sunderland, near the latter’s automotive plant (the biggest in the UK).

The other mega-project, a battery production plant by Britishvolt, collapsed, and Britishvolt went bankrupt. Meanwhile, it has been bought by the Australian company Recharge, but the plans for the future are not clear yet.

The workers union Unite has declared to be very happy with the venue of a new battery factory but has also stated that “the United States and Europe have clear and proactive plans about jobs and investments needed”. The union asks the government “to roll out an industrial strategy in the long term as soon as possible.”

A few weeks ago, CCC, an independent government counselor in becoming carbon-neutral as soon as possible, deplored in a statement “the alarming tardiness” of the energy transition in the UK. It asked the government “to be far more audacious in its initiatives” and “to reinstall climate as a number one priority”.

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