Those in the business of making cars and those in the business of making batteries have become fast friends in this EV-hyped market, mostly out of necessity. Some battery manufacturers, like Panasonic, lucked into partnering with the world’s most popular EV brand pretty much from day one (though it recently started to diversify). Others, like SK Innovation, already supply a number of marques, but have chosen to get especially cozy with a select few of them.
One of those is Ford. The joint venture between the two companies, creatively titled BlueOvalSK, will kick off with production of cells for the F-150 Lightning out of SK’s new factory in Commerce, Georgia. But that’s just one EV of the many that will exist, and so BlueOvalSK is eyeing facilities in Europe and probably one day China, too, beyond its North American operations. From Reuters:
“We’re very excited about this joint venture and it’s going to be beyond just North America,” Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, said at a J.P. Morgan conference. “It will certainly extend into Europe.”
Ford’s global EV plan calls for at least 240 GWh of battery cell capacity by 2030, equal to about 10 plants, Thai-Tang previously said. Some 140 GWh of that will be required in North America, with the balance in other regions, including Europe and China.
Thai-Tang didn’t say precisely when that expansion would happen. But it will need to, because BlueOvalSK will only account for 60 GWh initially, of Ford’s projected 240-GWh global capacity by 2030. Besides Ford, SK also supplies batteries for other major automakers, like Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and BAIC.
The continued relationship with Ford is nevertheless quite the turnaround, after SK was nearly barred from exporting components into the U.S. for 10 years. The ban would’ve been less time for the F-150 Lightning and Volkswagen’s Tennessee-built EVs, but it still would’ve locked one of the world’s largest battery suppliers out of a prime market.
That ban, initially handed down by the International Trade Commission, was due to allegations that the company had misappropriated trade secrets stolen from LG Energy Solutions. But then the two South Korean firms settled their beef last spring, and now it’s batteries for everyone.
Battery producers are already stressed as it is, such that they’re scrambling to raise new facilities to meet global demand. None of it is happening quickly enough. Chip shortages are the issue of the day, but battery shortages figure to be tomorrow’s problem, based on a report from the Center for Automotive Research in Germany via Forbes. These joint ventures are great and all, but lithium prices are doubling and geopolitical posturing is hindering growth, and EVs have far from reached critical mass yet. I wonder how these corporations plan to respond when they do.