Sun. Mar 29th, 2020

Europe: last call to engage in battery manufacturing | Innovation

Europe must lead the production of car batteries. The continent is in danger of being off the hook of a technology in full expansion that will mark much of the near future of the automotive industry. Especially with regard to the manufacture of batteries, a component that represents 60% of the cost of manufacturing an electric vehicle and whose manufacture, however, is almost exclusively a matter of Asia.

This was stated by three leading industry managers and experts in electric mobility during a meeting organized by EL PAÍS Retina and sponsored by Siemens. At the moment only 6% of batteries for electric cars are manufactured in Europe, according to the Spanish Association of car and truck manufacturers (Anfac).

"In Europe we have lost that train of battery technology and must be mounted on the train of the next generation (made of solid lithium), where it should be leading." Who speaks is Francisco Pérez Botello, president of the Volkswagen group in Spain, who sees with concern that the European industry depends on Asian countries such as China and South Korea for a piece of high added value. Pérez Botello therefore emphasizes the importance of not relying on imports from other countries in the context of confrontation between the United States and China, "a war more technological than commercial," he said.

From left to right: Hilario Albarracín, president of KPMG Spain; Miguel Ángel López, president of Siemens Spain; Francisco Pérez Botello, president of the Volkswagen group in Spain; and Jaime García Cantero, Director of Contents of the Retina Forum

The Volkswagen group, in fact, announced earlier this month that it will produce this component in collaboration with the Swedish company Northvolt. Both companies will build a factory next year in Salzgitter (Germany), where from 2024 they will produce 16 gigawatts per hour annually. Volkswagen will launch 20 models of electric vehicles “next year,” said Botello in one of his interventions.

Do we need a national plan for this component? This is believed by Miguel Ángel López, president of Siemens Spain. This manager warns that this is a necessary task and that "it has to be agreed between the government, the electricity companies, the large automotive and society."

Getting strong in the production of this component would be another way for the Spanish car industry to achieve “greater added value,” according to Hilario Albarracín, president of KPMG Spain. The importance is not minor: the three experts agreed that such an essential element of the electric car cannot be left in the hands of countries with political instability or far away because of the mismatch that this dependence would entail for the European trade balance. "It would be a catastrophe," Botello said.

Miguel Ángel López, president of Siemens Spain, listens to Francisco Pérez Botello, president of the Volkswagen group in Spain.

Charging points

The amount of loading points is another concern of the sector. Hilario Albarracín explained that a ratio of charge points of electric batteries has been committed to sustain the five million electric vehicles that are expected to circulate in the national territory in 2030. However, he clarified that most of these 500,000 places will be private and that "to motivate the progress it is necessary that the administration promotes this infrastructure".

Miguel Ángel López also spoke about these cargo areas. The president of Siemens Spain reported a trip from Madrid to Sancti Petri in which a challenge was proposed: counting the number of charging points for electric vehicles. The result surprised him: he only located four, and all of them were off the highways.

The meeting addressed other issues such as the future of work in the automobile sector, in which the new, more ecological forms of mobility will impact employment. Botello estimates that “in five or six years half of the automotive jobs will be new. We have hired software engineers from the video game industry, ”explained the Volkswagen manager to refer to the power of the electrician.

On this subject, López highlighted the high qualification of Spanish employees, who fit into the new job profiles required by the industry to undertake the ecological transition, especially software engineers. The president of Siemens Spain assured that in a period of five years "our country is going to be a leader in the automobile sector" Although technological changes are going to require a conversion of workers to more digital profiles, experts ruled out a reduction in the number of jobs in the automobile industry, and even argued that more will be created than currently exists.

The speakers agreed that administrations should clear "doubts" in the electric mobility sector. Albarracín stressed that "the uncertainty of citizens about which vehicle to buy affects the fall in sales." To solve it, they proposed a simplification of the regulations through a national climate change law.

In Spain, there are currently 53 different air quality plans, the speakers warned. This, Albarracín said, "hinders the offer, because you can't have 53 different types of cars." “It cannot be that a car can enter Central Madrid and cannot in Central Barcelona,” said Botello to defend a single law of air quality, homogeneous in all Spanish cities, but that contemplates different degrees of intensity according to the level of pollution of each locality.

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