Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Toyota to build battery plant

Published:Tuesday | December 7, 2021 | 12:09 AM
The company logo adorns a sign outside a Toyota dealership in Lakewood, Colorado.
The company logo adorns a sign outside a Toyota dealership in Lakewood, Colorado.

Toyota is preparing to build a US$1.3-billion electric vehicle battery plant near Greensboro, North Carolina, that will employ at least 1,750 people, government officials said on Monday.

Toyota was identified during a morning meeting of the state Economic Investment Committee, which voted to award at least US$79 million in incentives to the company if the project is completed.

State officials scheduled a news conference to announce a major economic development project at an 1,800-acre plot called the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. Randolph County elected leaders voted unanimously on Monday morning to offer a local incentives package to the expected company that they didn’t immediately identify, except as ‘Project Darwin’.

In October, Toyota announced that it planned to build a new US factory to make batteries for hybrid and fully electric vehicles. The location was to be announced later in the year. The automaker said the plant would start making batteries in 2025, gradually expanding through to 2031.

The plant is part of the US$3.4 billion that Toyota plans to spend in the United States on automotive batteries during the next decade. It didn’t detail where the remaining US$2.1 billion would be spent, but part of that likely will go for another battery factory.

Toyota will form a new company to run the new plant with Toyota Tsusho, a subsidiary that now makes an array of parts for the automaker. The company also will help Toyota expand its US supply chain, as well as increase its knowledge of lithium-ion auto batteries, Toyota said.

The site near Greensboro is relatively close to many of Toyota’s existing US auto assembly plants in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama and Texas. The company has yet to announce where it will build fully electric vehicles for sale in the US.

A state Commerce Department official said Toyota Motor Corp considered sites in nine states, including North Carolina.

The Randolph County package would result in an estimated US$65 million in property tax rebates and the transfer of megasite land to the company, should it invest US$1 billion and create at least 1,750 jobs with average salaries of more than US$62,000, according to a Randolph economic development official. The return to the company would grow if a second phase of the project occurs – a US$3-billion investment and more than 3,800 jobs in total.

The North Carolina legislature already has promised to spend US$135 million on roadwork and wetlands improvements, and would reimburse US$185 million the company spends on similar upgrades should the second phase occur.

Toyota plans to sell two million zero-emission hydrogen and battery electric vehicles worldwide per year by 2030. In the US, the company plans to sell 1.5 million to 1.8 million vehicles by 2030 that are at least partially electrified.

Currently in the US, Toyota offers hydrogen vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrid powertrains, but no vehicles powered solely by batteries. That has drawn criticism from environmental groups that accuse the company of dragging its feet on the technology. Toyota says it will have 15 battery electric vehicles for sale globally by 2025.

Toyota says vehicles that operate at least partially on electricity now account for about a quarter of its US sales, and it plans for that to rise to nearly 70 per cent by 2030.

The announcement comes as automakers race to build North American battery factories to supply what is expected to be exponentially increasing demand for electric vehicles as the world transitions away from internal-combustion engines.

Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, has said it will build two battery plants in North America. Ford announced three plants in Kentucky and Tennessee, and General Motors has said it would build four battery cell factories. Only two of those locations have been announced, in Ohio and Tennessee.

The LMC Automotive consulting firm expects US sales of new, fully electric vehicles to hit nearly 400,000 this year, almost double last year’s figures. But they still make up only about 2.6 per cent of sales.

The firm expects sales to grow to more than 730,000 next year, and more than two million by 2025. But even at two million, EV sales still would be only about 12 per cent of US new vehicle sales.

AP