What next after Britishvolt?
Britishvolt is in administration, which is being handled by consulting partnership EY-Parthenon. EY noted: “Our priorities as joint administrators are now to protect the interests of the company’s creditors, explore options for a sale of the business and assets, and to support the impacted employees.” The future hopes of the Blyth Battery Gigaplant at Cambois now rest with the proposals which the administrator has requested from interested parties.
It was a puzzle to many that the government’s much vaunted UK’s ‘world leading’ electric vehicle industry drive would be almost totally dependent on a start-up company with little or no expertise, finance, or customers, but so it seemed. According to Daniel Harrison, chief analyst at Ultima Media’s Automotive intelligence unit, Britishvolt’s ambitions to be the UK’s first major gigafactory were challenged from the start. As reported in Automotive logistics, he said:
“Unlike many gigafactories, Britishvolt wasn’t part of a joint venture to share the investment risk and crucially didn’t have any battery supply agreement with a major OEM” [Original Equipment Manufacturer]. And Brexit didn’t help either, complicating supply chains and trade flows to and from the continent.”
The Cambois site is recognised as being very well placed to be the home of such a venture, but any future development will be faced with the same headwinds as those which resulted in the demise of Britishvolt. Andy Palmer, chairman of battery development specialist, Inobat Auto, and a veteran of EV developments in the UK, noted that the collapse of Britishvolt signalled a lack of a transition strategy in the UK for EV manufacturing:
“Without multiple gigafactories built across the UK, our domestic industry faces obliteration from the likes of Europe, Asia, and America, which do have a strategy and are investing accordingly. Time is running out for us.“
Brexit and the lack of a coherent government strategy to manage the huge transition to electric vehicles, which government itself has legislated, are common themes in media commentary on the failure of Britishvolt.
Hope of a reprieve
However, the Guardian confirms a report that proposals considered by the administrator will include a non-binding offer from an Australian company based in the city of Geelong in the Australian state of Victoria. The city is famous for its carved bollard statues, fashioned from the old timbers and piles of a city pier demolished in the 1980s (see image above). A site next to the airport is the intended location of a new gigafactory to be built by Recharge Industries, led by CEO local businessman Rob Fitzpatrick. Recharge Industries is also the company reported to be making an offer for the Britishvolt assets.
The history of Recharge Industries and its promotional pitch would seem in many respects to be depressingly (or excitingly) similar to that of Britishvolt. The company is a start-up which has only been in existence for around a year, and has no track record in battery development or production. It is a product of New York based facilitation company, Scale Facilitation, which helps to set up other companies and is active in the transfer of skills and resources between the USA and Australia. Scale Facilitation itself only emerged in 2019 which saw ex PwC partner David Collard ‘take his biggest, yet calculated risk’ to acquire an unrelated Australian company on the verge of insolvency then turning it around. Technology and battery design expertise for the new factory is promised through a US partner company C4V. Support from the Australian Government seems to be pivotal in the success of the development. The proposed new Geelong gigafactory is similar in size to that proposed by Britishvolt and construction is to be similarly phased over several years. Recharge Industries claims to have customers for the initially anticipated production output. Britishvolt had ambitions to be international (factories in Canada and USA) and Recharge Industries would similarly seem to have international ambitions with its offer for Britishvolt assets.
Will the Cambois gigafactory bounce back?
Innovation News Network certainly seems excited about the prospects noting:
“If Recharge Industries are successful in its bid for Britishvolt, it could trigger perhaps the most significant development in UK industry in decades. It would position the Northumberland site as a hub for EV battery production bringing a litany of economic benefits and forging ties with Australia even closer.”
In 2021 82.1% of all vehicles made in Britain were exported, 55% of exports went to the EU, 1.5% went to Australia.
One can only hope that this time optimism is well founded, but a main asset that both Britishvolt and Recharge Industries seem to hold is intellectual property, and that may not necessarily be complementary.
‘2022 was the worst year for UK car production in decades, but the sector hopes to bounce back’, was headlined this month in City A. M. Whether that bounce will include the rise of a new battery plant from the ashes of Britishvolt is in the hands the administrator. We can only keep our fingers crossed.