India’s Tata Group, owner of Jaguar Land Rover, has confirmed plans for a flagship £4 billion facility in Somerset that will lead electric car battery research and production, in a move which has been welcomed by the UK Government.
This new gigafactory near Bridgwater will be one of the largest in Europe. It will make batteries for Jaguar Land Rover vehicles like Range Rover, the Defender and the Jaguar brands, but there are plans to build batteries for other car companies as well.
The production at the new factory is due to start in 2026, with the plant expected to create 4,000 UK jobs and thousands more in the wider supply chain.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC’s Today programme, that the incentive offered to Tata “is large”.
“I make no bones about that,” he said. “When I was first involved nine months ago, it was a call from Tata to tell me that the factory was going elsewhere. We have fought very hard for it.”He added: “It wasn’t just about money, it was also the UK’s lead in things like battery research.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “With the global transition to zero emission vehicles well underway, this will help grow our economy by driving forward our lead in battery technology whilst creating as many as 4,000 jobs, and thousands more in the supply chain.”
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney MP said: “This is a welcome move by Jaguar Land Rover after years of the south west being neglected by Government investment.”
The plant is Tata’s first outside India and, it is hoped, will help the car manufacturing sector transition from petrol and diesel to making electric vehicles.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that the investment comes at a critical time for the UK.
“With the global industry transitioning at pace to electrification, producing batteries in the UK is essential if we are to anchor wider vehicle production here for the long term,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.
Many are considering this investment to be the most important in the automotive sector since Nissan came to the country in the 1980s. More recently, the government has been criticised for lacking a clear industrial strategy and falling behind the US and EU in attracting investment in low-carbon technologies.
Sharon Graham, general secretary at the Unite union, said: “The US and Europe have clear, proactive plans for jobs and investment. We cannot continually lag behind.”
She said the government should use the announcement to set out a “strategic long-term industrial plan”, part of which “must ensure the giga-factory is constructed with UK steel”.
Some industry insiders hope that the Tata battery investment will open the door to further battery investments in the UK. Currently, there’s just one plant in operation next to Nissan’s Sunderland factory, and another on the drawing board in Northumberland.
Another proposed battery manufacturer, in the north east of England, Britishvolt, went into administration earlier this year. By contrast the EU has 35 plants open, under construction or planned.
Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds welcomed Tata’s new plant, adding that Labour would ensure “announcements like this aren’t a one off but the basis for a growing economy with good jobs in our industrial heartlands”.
In May, we had reported that Prime Minister Sunak had confirmed that he was involved in talks with EU to negotiate the looming threat of “unrealistic” tarrif rates to the UK’s EV industry, which had been voiced by several companies like Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen and Fiat.
There were also questions raised about the Government’s commitment to net-zero and decarbonisation, its most recent five-year programme criticised for failing to provide the money and legislation required to meet those goals.
Parliament’s cross-party Business and Trade Committee is holding an inquiry into the UK’s electric vehicle battery manufacturing sector. Its chairman Darren Jones, said Tata’s decision to site the new plant in the UK was “very welcome” but raised questions over the scale of the subsidies provided.
“We will want to reflect, however, on the subsidy package that was required to secure this decision and if this approach is scalable to meet the need for further battery manufacturing sites for other car companies across the UK.”
Those concerns were echoed by the FairCharge group, which represents other companies in the electric vehicle sector. FairCharge’s founder and former Top Gear host, Quentin Willson, said there was a fear in the industry that Tata’s investment could “sweep up” all available government support.
“I truly hope that other companies in the battery, critical minerals, charging and EV supply chains won’t be neglected,” he said.
Andy Palmer, former executive at Nissan and Aston Martin – who is now at EV charging firm Pod Point – said the UK needed a strategic industrial strategy to “lift all boats”.
“Support must come in all shapes and sizes for businesses of all shapes and sizes,” he said. “One gigafactory doesn’t equal success, it equals part of the puzzle.”