Do battery cells made in Germany have a chance? A consortium wants to dare the attempt.
Electric cars are clean, quiet and uncomplicated. Because they compete with the burners, jobs will soon be lost in the construction of engines. The unions therefore demand a compensation through new cell factories: BMW works council chief Manfred Schoch complains about German carmakers who would overslept a great opportunity. Meanwhile, the Chinese CATL group builds a huge battery cell plant in Erfurt – despite high electricity costs and wages.
Very different opinion is Ferdinand Dudenhöffer from the University of Duisburg-Essen. He welcomes CATL's billions investment, but warns against naive imitation attempts. The Germans would run too often blind and then get bloody noses, the professor finds – and refers to the failed Daimler cell production in Kamenz. In competition with large corporations from Asia with more than 200 billion euros in sales per year, any form of state funding was thrown out money.
No one doubts that the electric cars are about to make a big jump. That is why all German car brands build their own propulsion batteries, but purchase the cells from suppliers. This is a good deal at the moment, because the cell prices are in the basement. Whether Koreans or Chinese, they all raise new capacity for cell production in Europe. They lure anchor buyers with low prices – knowing they will be renegotiated in a few years.
For the automakers, there is no turning back in Europe, the world's strictest CO₂ targets force them to change direction. Nevertheless, only Tesla builds its battery cells (together with Panasonic) in its own factory. The Californians are thus in competition with the world market leader CATL. The Chinese have more than 20 years of experience with lithium-ion batteries and double their production every year. In this elephant race, a German start-up could only start with push subsidies.
Another professor still wants to risk it: Günther Schuh, the busy founder of the automaker Ego-Mobile, wants to raise a cell production on the grounds of Ford in Cologne with the German battery manufacturer BMZ. First, one gigawatt hour (GWh) is to be produced per year. There is almost nothing compared to the 100 GWh that CATL plans for 2020. And yet a beginning.
Whether by German or Chinese companies: It is now important to resettle an industry that was once world class with traditional brands such as Varta. Cells are the key component for battery cars. And prices will rise rapidly with demand. Then a European supply chain for cell materials can reduce costs and secure supplies.