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EV battery plants

LG Energy to invest over $4.5 bn to expand US battery facilities

By Mar 12, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

EV battery system platform Ultium, jointly developed by LG and GM
EV battery system platform Ultium, jointly developed by LG and GM

LG Energy Solutions Ltd. announced on Friday that it will invest more than 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) by 2025 to expand its US battery business, including building a new plant and creating at least 10,000 jobs there.

The top South Korean battery maker also confirmed earlier media reports that it is positively considering building a second electric vehicle battery plant in the US with joint venture partner General Motors Co., to solidify its position in the American market.

The new investment, one of the most aggressive among global players, will help LG secure a capacity of 70 GWh a year in the US in addition to a 5 GWh capacity at its own facility in Michigan, which supplies battery cells to clients such as GM, Ford Motor and Chrysler.

LG Energy, which recently broke away from LG Chem Ltd., said that within the first half of 2021, it will select at least two location candidates for its new factory to manufacture various types of batteries in the US.

Industry watchers said LG will finalize the location of its new plant after taking into account terms, including land and tax breaks, to be offered by local governments.

The new facility will produce pouch cell batteries to be used in EVs and energy storage systems (ESS) as well as cylindrical cell EV batteries that are rapidly increasing in demand, according to LG.

LG's cylindrical cells
LG's cylindrical cells

CYLINDRICAL CELLS FOR TESLA

The Korea supplier has made samples for the so-called 4680 large-format cylindrical cells for Telsla Inc.’s new models, according to a recent Reuters report.

LG currently supplies smaller cells to Tesla for its Model 3 and Model Y EVs in China.

The move to expand its battery output capacity is the latest in a series of investments by global automakers and EV battery makers in the US to ride on President Joe Biden’s green transportation policy.

“We’re proactively making this investment as we expect rapid growth in the US electric car and ESS markets under President Biden’s Green New Deal Initiative,” said LG Energy CEO Kim Jong-hyun.

“Through these commitments, LG aims to establish a stable, localized supply chain from research and development (R&D) through to production ... and to contribute to the success of the US auto industry and economy.”

LG said the addition of 70 GWh capacity will require some 4,000 direct hires and 6,000 subcontractors and other workers for the construction of a new plant.

LG and GM's joint battery plant under construction in Ohio
LG and GM's joint battery plant under construction in Ohio

AGGRESSIVE EXPANSION TO HOLD RIVALS IN CHECK

Analysts said LG’s aggressive US investment plan is designed to hold its bigger rivals in check in the American EV market, which is forecast to grow at a faster pace than in China and Europe, the traditional strongholds, under the Biden presidency.

As of October 2020, the US accounted for 14.9% of the global electric car market, lagging Europe’s 33.6% and China’s 31.7%.

The investment comes as LG’s competitors are struggling to expand capacity. While China’s CATL, the world’s top EV battery maker, is finding it hard to build a new plant due to the trade dispute between the US and China, Japan’s Panasonic Corp., another global player, currently supplies only to Tesla.

Another Korean battery maker SK Innovation Co. is currently engulfed in a legal dispute in the US with LG Energy over a trade secret infringement case.

LARGEST CAPACITY IN US

The envisioned 70 GWh capacity is twice that of Tesla and Panasonic, which run their respective factories with a capacity of 35 GWh a year each.

Ultium Cells LLC, LG’s joint venture with GM, is currently building a $2.3 billion EV battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio. The plant with a 30 GWh capacity is expected to start operations in 2022. The second factory under consideration will likely be similar in scope to the Ohio plant.

GM aims to roll out 30 EV models by 2025 as the US auto giant moves toward a fully electric lineup.

LG’s total capacity in the US will rise to 145 GWh, the largest among battery makers in the country, once all its expansion plans are realized.

Other than in the US, LG operates four battery plants – one in South Korea, another in Poland and two in China.

Write to Jae-Kwang Ahn at ahnjk@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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