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Britishvolt: how Britain’s bright battery hope was zapped

The demise of Britishvolt – a battery-making startup with ambitious plans to build a £4bn gigafactory in Northumberland – has sent shockwaves through industry and politics, said The Sunday Times. “Billed as the great hope” of the country’s electric vehicle future, and once valued at £1bn, the company’s collapse “has thrown up tales of reckless spending”, lavish salaries and incompetence.

Britishvolt was bigged up by ministers, even as it “struggled to land a major customer”, and its failure “poses difficult questions about the future of highly skilled manufacturing, the Government’s ability to level up deprived regions, and the UK’s reputation as a place to develop business”.

Formed in 2019 by two Swedish businessmen (neither of whom had experience in EVs), the firm projected that by 2028, European battery demand would outstrip supply by 554GWh – “enough for 15 Britishvolts”. Plenty of investors bought the story, said Jasper Jolly in The Guardian: including Ashtead, Glencore, Tritax (an Abrdn-owned fund) and backers from Norway and Indonesia.

But in summer 2022, construction of the gigafactory was put on “life support” until Britishvolt could find more funds. It emerged that managers had been splashing out on Porsches, high-grade computer kit, yoga lessons and a £2.8m mansion with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi-style bath “for workers” – most of whom have now lost their jobs.

Some thought the Britishvolt project doomed from the outset, said the FT. It was founded on the idea of “build it and they will come” – when standard industry practice suggests it is better to secure orders first.

As the blame game gets under way, EY (whose consulting arm is itself a creditor) has now put “the UK’s most promising” gigafactory site back onto the market. The Australian battery company Recharge Industries has already made a preliminary bid, as it seeks to capitalise on closer ties between Australia and the UK. Recharge Industries founder David Collard said “a potential Anglo-Australian deal for Britishvolt” would be preferable to a takeover by a company from China, which “dominates global supply”, reported The Times.

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