France and Germany take the lead in “Airbus battery plans”

Tuesday the 18th of December 2018, the sixth edition of the Friends of the Industry (FoI) conference was held in Paris, at the French Ministry of Economy and Finance, commonly known as Bercy. The FoI represents a group of EU member states, gathering on a yearly basis, to exchange views on European industrial policy. Generally, this FoI conference delivers a declaration calling for action in the field of EU industrial policy. This sixth edition also delivered a joint statement, endorsed by 19 member states calling upon the strengthening of the current European industrial policy aimed at meeting the major challenges ahead of us in a global setting. This joint statement is also aimed at providing input for the incoming European Commission after next year’s European elections. Think of strengthening industrial value chains, taking the next steps in the circular economy and investing in key technologies, such as artificial intelligence besides investing in strategic items such as batteries for electric vehicles.


In that context it is worthwhile highlighting that the French and German ministers of Economy, Bruno Lemaire and Peter Altmaier respectively, agreed on a road map for what has been referred to as the “Airbus of car batteries”. Whereas this ambition should be made operational with current technology, the idea really is to form a consortium, or multiple, for the complete value chain of 4th generation car batteries, from R&D to production. This would be a European joint venture, meant to rival for instance with Chinese producers and distributors. As around 35% of an electric car’s value is in its battery, this means that this 35% of the value chain should remain within Europe as well, instead of being outsourced to countries like China, which still holds a dominant position in this field today.


Considering this strategic dimension in the development of batteries, both Altmaier and Lemaire aim at obtaining the IPCEI status, or Important Project of Common European Interest, for the car battery development plan, to be granted by the European Commission, if possible in the first trimester of 2019. An IPCEI status allows consortia to avoid applying standard EU state aid rules. Allowing state aid is said to be important, according to sources within Bercy, as China is said to strongly subsidise its own battery industry.


In the meantime, it is reported that several consortia are being formed that could potentially benefit from this IPCEI status. One of them would be SAFT, a subsidiary of Total, involving partners such as Siemens, Solvay or Manz. BASF would also have created a consortium with Varta and Ford. Other companies are said to be welcome to join these consortia.


Obviously, these ambitions require considerable financial means. Germany has planned to invest one billion euros over the next 4 years, until 2022. France has not yet announced a definitive budget but is looking to tap into the Industry and Innovation fund, which contains 10 billion euros, or into the so-called Programme des Investissements d’Avenir (future investments programme of the French government). Other members of the European Union are welcome to join the initiative.


The Friends of the Industry group of member states clearly stresses the importance of a variety of technologies aimed at strengthening Europe’s future competitiveness (and labour market). Besides artificial intelligence and batteries a key enabling technology such as nanotechnology is being highlighted. In this context it is worthwhile noting that the “outgoing” European Commission announced on Tuesday December 18th that the IPCEI status to the nanotechnology sector had been validated. This project will allow four member states to subsidise this sector. France will present its nanotechnology plans, Nano 2022, in Grenoble coming January.


Sources: Le Figaro and Les Echos, December 18th 2018.