If the West Midlands fails to secure development of a new ‘gigafactory’, it will put thousands of regional jobs at risk, it has been claimed.
Liam Byrne, a Birmingham MP and Labour’s candidate to become West Midlands Mayor, has published a new report which says failure to create a manufacturing base for electric vehicle (EV) batteries risks huge harm to the industry and the loss of 114,000 automotive jobs by 2040.
A similar warning was issued by Andy Palmer, former chief executive of Warwickshire-based luxury carmaker Aston Martin, who warned the UK would lose its automotive industry “and the 800,000 jobs that go with it”.
But current West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who will stand again as the Conservative candidate in this year’s mayoral election, said work on securing a giant factory to produce EV batteries was well under way.
A bid for funding has been prepared in partnership with West Midlands auto giant Jaguar Land Rover and is to be presented to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy within the next two month.
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This has made £500 million available to help secure a factory for the West MIdlands.
An unidentified site for the proposed facility has been identified, according to Mr Street, with land at Coventry Airport among the rumoured options.
The UK Government recently announced it was planning to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, a move which has forced carmakers to up their efforts in shiting to EVs.
The batteries used to power these vehicles are distinct to traditional car batteries and represent around 40 per cent of the cars’ value.
In addition, they are bulky items which are hard to transport.
Industry experts say that carmakers will shift production to sites close to car battery factories which means UK plants could eventually close if there is no such factory here.
Mr Palmer, who left Aston Martin last summer after almost six years as its chief executive, said:”If the UK doesn’t build giga-plants quickly, within a decade we will lose our vehicle manufacturers to countries where they can get local batteries.”
Mr Byrne said that, unless the West Midlands battery factory was built, carmakers would move their production to Europe, where 16 huge gigafactories are already up and running or in production.
He added: “I want our region to be a global capital of green manufacturing.
“Coventry has set out the site for a huge gigafactory in our region at Coventry Airport and building British batteries for British electric cars could help create 60,000 jobs.
“Right now, with unemployment rising fast, that’s a shot in the arm we need to cut carbon – and create new careers with full-time, well-paid jobs.”
The Government has set aside nearly £500 million to spend over the next four years for the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries.
Mr Street said: “This has been a consistent theme of mine, that the electrification of the car industry is coming and we have to be ready for it.
“I have for over a year been arguing that the Government has to put the cash on the table. We do need this subsidy. We need a client – that’s JLR – a supplier, a site and the subsidy.”
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Talks were taking place with a number of potential suppliers, the firms that would manufacture the batteries, he said.
“This wasn’t going to happen immediately. There are people working now on the location, working on what’s needed and, most crucially, working with JLR on who will be the suppliers.”
Mr Street pointed out that the region had already secured the £130 million UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry, which will help develop and fast track batteries and provided the first steps towards getting
The debate over the gigafactory is set to become an issue in the forthcoming mayoral election scheduled for May, although it may be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The other candidates set to stand are KPMG chartered accountant Jenny Wilkinson for the Liberal Democrats and Solihull Council opposition leader Steve Caudwell for the Green Party.