Bentley chief’s ‘concern’ over UK’s failure to attract battery investments

The UK’s failure to attract investments from electric vehicle start-ups or large battery makers was “concerning”, the chief executive of luxury-car maker Bentley has warned.

The government needs to deal with energy costs to spur investment and compete with other countries whose incentives are “an order of magnitude more attractive than the UK”, Adrian Hallmark told the Financial Times.

The Bentley boss’s comments come as governments across the world vie to attract battery manufacturing plants in order to protect their own car industries as they gradually switch to making electric vehicles.

Companies such as Bentley’s owner Volkswagen are choosing “Canada, Spain, Poland, Belgium, even Germany — one of the highest-cost markets in Europe” to locate battery factories, he said.

In these countries “the incentives that are offered, which are all publicised, are an order of magnitude more attractive than the UK”, he added.

Speaking in a pre-recorded interview for the FT Future of the Car Summit this week, the Bentley chief said: “It’s surprising, if not a bit concerning that no [electric vehicle] manufacturer or battery manufacturer has chosen the UK over any other location as an investment destination.” 

He also pointed out that “no one has chosen so far to put any strategic investment in green mobility into the UK beyond the incumbents”.

The three-day event held in London from Tuesday will feature the chief executives or senior leaders from Ferrari, Geely, Renault, Nissan, Volkswagen, Stellantis, Ford and Aston Martin, as well as electric car start-ups Polestar and Fisker.

While the UK has previously held talks with start-ups including Rivian and Tesla, so far none of the new entrants have chosen to build factories in the UK. China’s BYD earlier this year said that it did not even consider a plant in the country because of its decision to leave the EU.

Chinese battery group Envision is building a larger battery plant for Nissan in Sunderland, and is expected to work with India’s Tata on a site to serve Jaguar Land Rover, which is choosing between the UK and Spain for the factory.

The government should offer “affordable energy prices and at least something approaching equivalent incentives to get the ball rolling in terms of inward investment,” Hallmark said, adding that UK energy costs are about a third higher than on mainland Europe.

Bentley has committed to making its future electric cars in the UK as part of a €3bn investment into its Crewe facility, but plans to use imported batteries.

The brand, which made about 15,000 cars last year, is not large enough to support a dedicated battery plant in the UK, Hallmark said. “To get a critical mass, to create a gigafactory and to make it work from an economic point of view is going to be a real challenge in the UK, unless a big player steps in to fulfil their own needs and has spare capacity”.

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