Plans unveiled for new electric vehicle battery gigafactory in Coventry by 2025
Updated: Feb 20, 2021
It’s a story combining opportunism, redemption and how an area is embracing the future whilst acknowledging its own history. A joint venture between Coventry City Council and Regional City Airports will develop proposals and submit an application to build a plant creating batteries for electric vehicles (a gigafactory) on the site of Coventry Airport.
Coventry has a rich history in the motor trade. The first ever British car (a Daimler) was built there in 1897 and the industry grew and grew, reaching a peak in the 1950s and 1960s. At that stage, manufacturers based in and around Coventry included the British Motor Corporation (makers of the Mini), Jaguar and Chrysler/Peugeot leading to the city being dubbed “Britain’s Detroit”.
Even though the car industry fell into decline, the area retained its links. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) still has its HQ and R&D facilities in Coventry with assembly plants nearby in Birmingham.
The London EV Company (LEVC) – formerly Mann & Overton, more recently the London Taxi Company – has been based in Coventry in its various guises since 1948. They opened their new global headquarters there in 2017 and introduced the world’s first zero-emissions capable electric taxi in 2018.
In November, the UK government committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. To make this transition viable, UK production of EVs needed to be stepped up and domestic manufacturing of the lithium-ion batteries which power EVs became imperative…especially in light of Brexit regulations around tariffs. Accordingly, the government pledged £500m funding towards building gigafactories.
The West Midlands and – more specifically – Coventry seemed the ideal location for one with a number of regional factors in its favour:
Coventry-based JLR have recently announced that their top-of-the-range cars would be all-electric by 2025.
Besides JLR and LEVC, the West Midlands houses automotive manufacturers such as Aston Martin Lagonda, BMW and others.
The Coventry-based UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) – a battery production development allowing UK companies to prove their technologies can be manufactured speedily and to the standards required – is now close to opening. The plant was built at impressive speed with invaluable assistance from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), the government body which directs research and innovation funding.
In November, Britishvolt – the UK’s foremost investor in advanced battery technologies – announced that their new global headquarters would be located in Coventry.
In December, however, Britishvolt announced that Blyth in the North East was their choice for Britain’s first gigaplant. Undeterred, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street redoubled his efforts to secure a plant for the region, passionately advocated its suitability and continued to negotiate with potential partners for a site.
Coventry Airport has had a chequered history in recent times with closures and re-openings and currently does not have any scheduled flights. Coventry City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority identified the airport – with up to 4.5m sq. feet of commercial space – as the preferred site for a gigafactory and the pre-emptive application for planning permission has resulted.
Now, it seems that a futuristic vision of decarbonised transport may be enhanced on the site of what was once an equally ground-breaking mode of travel, simultaneously restoring Coventry to its place at the centre of modern British car manufacturing. The planning application will be submitted this year and, subject to successful discussions with car makers and battery suppliers, the gigafactory could be operational by 2025.