No more dependence on Chinese batteries? We are not there. However, the first French batteries for electric vehicles will go on sale in Stellantis vehicles at the end of 2023. “The building is finished, we have been installing the machines since the beginning of January. Twelve containers are coming in a day,” assures Yann Vincent, managing director of ACC. The car park will be fully installed in Douvrin (Pas-de-Calais) “in the first half of the year”. ACC (Automotive Cells Company)? It is a joint venture between Total and PSA that became Stellantis in early 2021 and was formed in August 2020, with Mercedes-Benz joining in March 2022. These three letters alone represent the (relative) tricolor and all hopes for European independence. in terms of zero emission vehicles. A condition sine qua non. The big European bailout was just under 1.3 billion euros, but it didn’t win.
“There are already a hundred people working in Duvrin. Another 300 people will come during the year,” says Yann Vincent. Challenges. 40% of them come from the current company Française de Mécanique, which today manufactures its batteries for Stellantis in the petrol and diesel engine field! A year ago, Stellantis management reached an agreement with three unions to encourage such transfers. Yann Vincent estimates that in 2025 the battery factory should reach “1,000 employees, including a third from Stellantis, a third of people in the labor market and a third of recent graduates.”
Research and development center in Bruges
ACC already has a research and development center in Bruges (Gironde), which has been operating for a year and a half, and a test plant in Nersac (Charente), which has been operating for a year. At the end of the increase, at the end of 2024, installed capacity in Douvrin will reach 15 gigawatt hours. A second tranche of 15 gigawatt-hours is also planned. “We will start administrative procedures for this second phase in mid-2023. These will last about nine months, then we will start construction,” says the manager. This second tranche will start production in 2025. The third tranche will start in 2027. For a total of 40 gigawatt hours.
But the ACC is not limited to France. Another plant is in the program in Kaiserslautern, Germany, which will begin series production in late 2025. ACC also announced that it will convert a third Stellantis plant in spring 2022, this time in Italy. Therefore, Thermoli will produce batteries. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the Italian authorities on March 21. In total, in 2030, the ACC should have a total capacity of 120 gigawatt hours in these three areas. That’s 500,000 annual units for each.
40% market share for China CATL
Can ACC effectively compete with Asian giants such as China’s CATL and BYD, Japan’s Panasonic, Korea’s LG and Samsung? China CATL alone has already reached nearly 40% market share. Luc Chatel, president of the French Automotive Platform, warns that China “controls 75% of the global battery production chain, 50% of the total value of the electric model”.
Yann Vincent, 65, and automotive veteran, points out that ACC “benefits from acquiring technologies with Saft (Total), which designs and manufactures lithium-ion batteries, even if not for cars.” In addition, “we have very strong experience in mass production with Stellantis and Mercedes,” adds one who started his career at Renault in 1982 before heading the assembly area in Douai (North). he took responsibility for the diamond-sealed compact car program, then quality, before moving to Alstom Transport in 2009, then joining PSA to take over the industrial management of the bankrupt group in 2014! “That’s why we’re far from starting from scratch,” he insists. ACC also “renewed partnerships already engaged with Saft, for example with CEA. We also rely on the know-how of European chemists…”. For materials, for example, ACC has a project with a Portuguese graphite processing company, Galp. “I have every reason to hope that we will greatly reduce our dependence on China,” he said.
In addition, France “has many domestic assets such as carbon-free energy. However, the production of batteries requires a lot of energy. In addition, the share of labor costs in production processes is low,” says Yann Vincent. In France, this cost is the highest in Germany and Europe! Could batteries allow Renault and PSA to relocate car manufacturing, with the same costs driving them out of France for two decades? ACC targets electric car battery market share in Europe at “10% to 20% in 2030”, underlines this man accustomed to tough bets and seemingly lost causes…. PSA on the brink of bankruptcy 2014-2018 was it no longer impossible for its factories to return to competitiveness?