Forty miles from the coast of Britain, where the government was again told this week that without urgent action it risks losing the electric vehicle race, “Battery Valley” is taking shape in northern France.
Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last week that the Taiwanese battery maker ProLogium had chosen Dunkirk for its first foreign facility brings to four the number of gigafactories planned in a corridor stretching about 60 miles inland from the port.
“We’re going all in on this,” said Xavier Bertrand, the head of the Hauts-de-France region, once home to many of France’s coalmines and much of its steel industry, which has spent more than €200m (£174m) – on top of huge state subsidies – ensuring the investments came its way rather than to rival sites in Poland, the Netherlands and Germany.
“We’re in advanced talks with other major players in the sector, too – graphite processing, recycling,” Bertrand told AFP. “The aim is to have the whole chain here; it’s a strategic choice. This is a decade of transformation and we absolutely need to be in the vanguard.”
Battery Valley has the enthusiastic support of the French president, who this week unveiled a raft of green measures and tax credits – including electric vehicle (EV) subsidies – aimed at attracting billions of euros in new investment to “reindustrialise” France, create jobs and increase manufacturing from 10% of the country’s economic output to 15%.
“There’s obviously a deep-rooted tradition in France of using a combination of hard money and soft support for industry in this way – far more so, generally speaking, than there is in Britain,” said a UK-based expert on the European automotive industry, who asked not to be named.
“It’s just particularly apparent at times like these,” said the insider. “France is developing a proper, thought-through industrial policy for the green transition. If it all plays out as planned, its EV battery cluster in northern France should be one of Europe’s biggest.”
By 2030, the European Commission estimates, between 33m and 40m electric cars will be on the EU’s roads. Five years later, the bloc will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. In France, sales of EVs already account for 15% of the market.
The country’s carmakers, Renault and Stellantis – which owns Peugeot and Citroën, as well as Vauxhall (known on the continent as Opel) and Fiat – have promised to build at least 2m EVs in France before 2030, and they will all need batteries.
ProLogium’s plant, the largest of the four northern gigafactories announced to date, represents an investment of €5.2bn. By 2030, a planned workforce of 3,000 should be producing about 48 gigawatt hours (GWh) of batteries on its 180-hectare brownfield site in Dunkirk, enough to power between 500,000 and 750,000 cars a year.
Also based near the port is