By Heekyong Yang
SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korean battery makers have stepped up their U.S. investment ambitions and cumulative spending announcements since 2018 now total some $13 billion. This year alone, plans worth $5.5 billion have been flagged.
Spurred on by incentives that come with the Biden administration's push to shift more of the electric vehicle (EV) supply chain to the United States and away from China, their plans for factories now span seven states.
AN INDUSTRY REVS UP
Plans from LG Energy Solution (LGES), SK On and Samsung SDI Co Ltd call for an additional 320 gigawatt hours (GWh) of capacity to be built over the next few years - or enough additional output to supply 4 million EVs equivalent to the Tesla Model 3.
That's a huge bet that electric vehicles are about to surge in popularity in the United States. EVs and plug-in hybrids only accounted for around 5% of the U.S. auto market last year.
LGES and SK On together currently have installed U.S. capacity of about 15 GWh per year, with plants in Michigan and Georgia respectively. That compares with 39 GWh for Japan's Panasonic Holdings Corp, which supplies battery cells to Tesla Inc from the automaker's Gigafactory in Nevada.
Panasonic is expected to announce a new plant to meet growing demand from Tesla. Sources have also said China's Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL), the world's top global battery supplier, is in the final stages of vetting sites for plants in the United States.
Commanding the largest share of the U.S. battery market among the South Korean suppliers, LGES has announced more than $5.5 billion investment since 2019, aiming to manufacture about 160 GWh of batteries per year by 2025 .
It is building three plants with General Motors in Ohio, Tennessee and Michigan, a standalone factory in Arizona and will be expanding an existing factory in Michigan.
It is also planning a venture with Stellantis NV in Canada, which is slated to have annual production capacity of 45 GWh by 2026.
Its clients include Tesla, GM and Volkswagen.
The SK Innovation Co Ltd unit has announced investment of about $6.3 billion since 2018 to build two stand-alone factories in Georgia and three plants with Ford in Tennessee and Kentucky.
All in all, it is aiming to have more than 150 GWh worth of capacity in the country.
Its clients include Ford Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Co and Volkswagen.
SK On is also expected to be involved in plans by Hyundai Motor Group, which houses Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp, to invest $5.5 billion in Georgia to build EV and battery facilities. SK On will supply the battery for Hyundai's Ioniq 7 that will be built there, a source has previously told Reuters.
The Samsung Electronics Co Ltd affiliate has joined hands with Stellantis to invest up to $3.1 billion in a battery plant in Indiana. Samsung SDI's portion of the investment is $1.3 billion though it may grow to $1.6 billion.
The venture aims to start production in 2025 with an initial annual production capacity of 23 GWh that would climb to 33 GWh in the next few years.
Samsung SDI's clients include BMW, Ford and Volkswagen.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang in Seoul and Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Kevin Krolicki and Edwina Gibbs)