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EV battery JV

SK Innovation, Ford agree to launch $5.3 bn EV battery JV in US

Deal expected to strengthen Korea-US battery partnership

By May 20, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

SK Innovation's EV battery plant under construction in the US state of Georgia
SK Innovation's EV battery plant under construction in the US state of Georgia


South Korean battery maker SK Innovation Co. and Ford Motor Co. have agreed to launch a 6 trillion won ($5.3 billion) joint venture to support the US auto giant’s speedy rollout of electric vehicles.

The deal, which comes on the sidelines of President Moon Jae-in’s four-day visit to the US, is expected to further strengthen the EV battery partnership between the two countries, already well under way in a similar deal between fellow Korean battery maker LG Energy Solution Ltd. and General Motors Co. of the US. 

SK Innovation and Ford Motor signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a 50-50 JV, named BlueOvalSK, to manufacture batteries in the US, the two companies said on Thursday.

The two sides are looking for multiple sites in the US to build at least two battery plants with a combined production capacity of 60 GWh a year, enough to charge some 600,000 all-electric pickup trucks.

The factories will start mass production of batteries in 2025.

"Our JV with Ford will play a pivotal role in fleshing out the electric vehicle value chain in the United States, a key objective of the current US administration," SK Innovation Chief Executive Kim Jun said in a joint statement.

Ford CEO Jim Farley said in the statement: "This MOU is just the start; it’s a key part of our plan to vertically integrate key capabilities that will differentiate Ford far into the future.”

SK Innovation is already constructing two battery plants worth $2.6 billion in the US state of Georgia, which will supply EV batteries to Ford and Volkswagen AG. The first plant is set to begin operations in the first quarter of next year, with the second plant scheduled for mass production in 2023. The second plant is dedicated for batteries to be used in Ford’s F-150 pickup.

The latest deal, announced on Thursday, will facilitate Ford Motor’s business shift toward eco-friendly vehicles.

Ford is pushing to electrify key models in its lineup, including the Transit van later this year and the F-150 pickup in mid-2022. It has said it will invest $22 billion in electrification through 2025.

An SK Innovation official details the company's EV battery system at an expo.
An SK Innovation official details the company's EV battery system at an expo.


SK-FORD DEAL SIMILAR TO LG-GM PARTNERSHIP

SK Innovation, which supplies batteries to carmakers such as Hyundai Motor Co., Volkswagen and Ford, has been aggressively expanding facilities worldwide, with an aim to emerge as one of the top three players.

With production sites in the US, Hungary, China and South Korea, SK currently has an annual battery capacity of about 40 GWh. By 2025, it aims to ramp up its yearly battery capacity to 125 GWh, enough to power about 1.8 million electric vehicles.

SK Innovation said in February it plans to build its third and fourth battery plants in Georgia worth a combined $2.4 billion. That will bring the company’s total US battery investments to $7.5 billion.

The latest JV deal with Ford comes after SK Innovation last month agreed to pay $1.8 billion to its bigger hometown rival LG Energy Solution to settle trade disputes, which could have derailed SK’s Georgia plant projects.

The SK-Ford deal is taking a similar path as the LG-GM partnership, under which the two firms are jointly building battery factories in Ohio and Tennessee.

In the US, LG Energy, a spin-off of LG Chem Ltd., has been supplying Ford, GM and Chrysler with batteries produced at its own 5 GWh-capacity facility in Michigan since 2012.

Separately, LG Energy has set up an EV battery JV with GM. Their JV, Ultium Cells LLC, is building a $2.3 billion EV battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, Ohio. The 30 GWh-capacity plant is expected to start operations in 2022.

Last month, LG and GM announced that they will spend 2.7 trillion won ($2.4 billion) to build their second US EV battery plant in Tennessee, which should double their EV battery output in the country. Their battery JV aims to complete the new plant with an annual production capacity of 35 GWh by the first half of 2024.

GM, LG Energy Solution announce construction of their 2nd Ultium Cells plant in Tennessee.
GM, LG Energy Solution announce construction of their 2nd Ultium Cells plant in Tennessee.


DEAL TO CEMENT KOREA-US BATTERY PARTNERSHIP

Since US President Joe Biden’s inauguration early this year, global automakers and EV battery makers have announced a series of investment plans in the US to ride on his green transportation policy.

Tesla Inc. and Japan’s Panasonic Corp. have a JV called Gigafactory with an annual capacity of 35 GWh. The two companies plan to build another factory in Nevada later this year.

In March, Volkswagen said it is joining hands with its partner Northvolt AB, the Swedish battery startup, to build six “gigafactories” in Europe by 2030 and roll out a new unified prismatic battery cell design from 2023, which is widely adopted by Chinese battery makers, including CATL and BYD.

Analysts said US companies will increasingly choose to tie up with Korean battery players as the Biden administration is taking action to hold China in check.

Biden on Tuesday called for government grants for new battery production facilities as part of a $174 billion EV proposal during a visit to a Ford EV plant in Michigan. He also referenced his administration's role in brokering the settlement between SK and LG.

SK Innovation, Ford agree to launch .3 bn EV battery JV in US


“Panasonic is busy supplying to Tesla and Northvolt’s technology isn’t strong enough. US automakers will have little choice but to partner with Korean companies,” said an industry official.

President Moon, currently in Washington accompanied by Korean business leaders, is expected to visit SK Innovation’s Georgia plant later this week together with SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won.

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

Yeonhee Kim and In-Soo Nam edited this article.


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