It’s not just at the Cannes Film Festival that France is rolling out the red carpet these days. This Tuesday, May 30, in Billy-Berclau, near Lens, in the north of the country, the inauguration of the first gigafactory of batteries for electric vehicles is done in the presence of three French ministers, including that of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, the German Minister of Transport Volker Wissing, the Italian Minister of Business Adolfo Urso, the CEO of TotalEnergies Patrick Pouyanné, the of Mercedes-Benz Ola Källenius and Carlos Tavares, the boss of Stellantis (Peugeot, Citroën, Opel, Fiat, Chrysler…). This is to say that the event is awaited by the cream of the European automotive industry.
The focus of all this attention is the Automotive Cells Company (ACC) plant. The company created by Stellantis, Mercedes-Benz and TotalEnergies will have to manufacture the batteries for the cars that will invade the European market in the years to come. From 2035, the sale of new thermal vehicles should indeed be prohibited in the European Union.
This first opening is therefore a strong symbol for France, which intends to make this branch the major lever for its reindustrialisation, particularly in this region which has suffered greatly from factory closures in recent decades.
In mid-May, Emmanuel Macron had already done everything to create the event by announcing the arrival in Dunkirk of a battery factory from Taiwanese ProLogium. An investment of 5.2 billion euros (with more than 1 billion in public aid) which should lead to the creation of 3,000 jobs direct and many others indirect or induced. Because it is a basin of interconnected companies that the authorities want to see born in the region to take over from the classic automobile industry, which had itself already succeeded the mines after their closure. At the same time, the French President announced the investment of 1.5 billion euros and the creation of 1,700 jobs linked to the construction, in the same city, of a factory for the recycling and production of battery components by Chinese XTC and French Orano.
These good industrial news were the fourth and fifth announcements of this type in the north of France, after the arrival of the Chinese Envision in Douai near the Renault factory, the French Verkor also in Dunkirk and ACC in Billy- Berclau right next to the historic Peugeot engine factory.
The real start of production at ACC is scheduled for this summer, with 600 jobs on the line. From 2030, the objective is to manufacture the equivalent of 800,000 batteries per year, and to employ 2,000 employees. Launched in 2020, ACC designs the energy storage modules that will be assembled into battery packs by car manufacturers.
All these industrial projects are supported by the State as part of a green reindustrialization strategy, one of the main objectives of which is to be able to produce 2 million electric vehicles in France in 2030. A way to resist the Chinese offensive in this area and to do everything to guarantee a certain sovereignty. France even dreams of becoming an exporter by the end of the decade.
This Silicon Valley of the battery, between Dunkirk and the former mining basin in the North, whose link with the historic factories of the French automobile industry is also clearly visible, embodies a sharp turn that Emmanuel Macron has been promoting ever since Covid has shown the dependence that links Europe to Chinese industry. In mid-April, builders and institutions again affirmed their desire to train 13,000 people to meet the needs of this “Battery Valley” thatannounces with great communication the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France (major local authority resulting from the merger of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie Regions). Industry professionals believe that these gigafactories will create at least 20,000 jobs by 2030 in this region, which was until now the first in the ranking of thermal automobile production with nearly 700,000 vehicles produced each year.
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