- By Simon Jack
- Business Teacher
Australian company Recharge Industries has bought defunct battery maker British Volt out of administration.
Its decline was attributed to a lack of battery experience, proven technology, customers and revenue.
Recharge Industries has a similar profile in many ways, being a start-up with little manufacturing experience.
It’s an Australian company, but ultimately owned and run by a New York-based investment fund called Scale Facilitation.
“What we’re bringing is proven technology,” David Collard, the fund’s Australian chief executive, told the BBC.
“The US Department of Defense has checked it and it is already being supplied to the UK Navy by a subcontractor.”
The new owners will keep the British Volt brand name, but have very different plans for the future.
The company wants to start by focusing on batteries for energy storage and hopes to have those products available by the end of 2025.
It then plans to make batteries for high-performance sports cars.
The prospect of a much-needed plant capable of producing batteries for high-volume car manufacturers in the UK has loomed for years.
But does Mr Collard understand why many in government and the automotive industry are nervous that UK industry cannot deliver what it needs without the involvement of big manufacturers such as Ford, GM, JLR and BMW?
“They all started from somewhere before they became big. We’ve had rapid growth and success all the way,” he said.
Recharge Industries certainly has big ambitions. It plans to build a similar plant in Mr Collard’s hometown of Geelong, near Melbourne. He spent time building relationships with government and opposition leaders there.
He has yet to make the same level of contacts in England, but admits to being involved with the owners of the Northumberland site.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Northumberland County Council. They really want a gigafactory and want the best for their people,” he said.
Mr Collard candidly admitted that he could not be the right person to deliver it.
“I’m not saying I’m the best person in the world to run this scheme, but at the end of the day the executives had a legal duty to get the best returns for the lenders – but I think they care as individuals, what the future holds.”
The deal comes just days after Leveling-Up Secretary Michael Gove announced £20.7m of funding for the seaside town, speaking to the Northern Echo during a visit to Blyth.
“The government is ready to get behind the right company with the right investment because we believe a gigafactory here in Blyth is the right way to build the skills that local people have, and indeed the edge this town has already demonstrated when it comes to renewables and the future of energy,” Mr Collard said.
The collapse of British Volt, which saw the loss of more than 200 jobs, was seen as a blow to the government’s “stabilization” agenda pushed by former prime minister Boris Johnson.
The government offered £100 million to former British Volt owners if they hit certain construction milestones.
Mr Collard said he would happily accept government funding but wanted wider political support. “Anyone will get free money, but at the end of the day what we want is bipartisan support, and that’s what Australia and America have.”
He described the site as “shovel ready” but said it will be six to 12 months before the first shovel is used on the site.
Ultimately, he hopes the site will create up to 8,000 jobs in the site and supply chain.
This would be a great outcome for the region and the UK economy, but the scheme does not yet appear to be the answer to the UK’s pressing car battery needs.
The UK currently has only one battery plant owned by a Chinese company, next to Nissan’s factory in Sunderland.
35 plants are planned or already under construction in the EU.