Toyota eyeing North Carolina site for first US battery plant — sources

Toyota eyeing North Carolina site for first US battery plant — sources
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(Nov 19): Toyota Motor Corp is planning to invest billions of dollars in a battery plant to be built on the outskirts of Greensboro, North Caroline as part of the automaker’s efforts to ramp up output of electric vehicles (EVs) in the US, according to people familiar with the matter.

The car manufacturer hasn’t made a final decision, but is expected to partner with Panasonic Corp at the facility, said some of the people, who declined to be named as the discussions are private. No formal commitment had been made and the plan could still evolve, these people said.

While details of the ownership and operations of the plant are still unclear, it will likely be via the two Japanese companies’ battery joint venture Prime Planet Energy & Solutions, one of the people said. Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma said nothing new had been decided regarding the company’s US battery investments. Prime Planet spokesman Masato Tokuhisa said the company is “always considering what’s best in regard to our production”, without commenting on specifics. Panasonic spokeswoman Yayoi Watanabe declined to comment.

The factory would be the anchor tenant in an industrial park called the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, which the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation has described as an 1,825-acre (about 738.55 hectares) parcel of former farmland rezoned for heavy industry and located near several interstate highways at the state’s centre. Representatives of the site couldn’t be reached for comments.

The North Carolina plant would be the latest in a string of announcements by major automakers pivoting to electrified power trains. Ford Motor Co and South Korea’s SK Innovation Co said in September they will spend US$11.4 billion (about RM47.69 billion) on an EV assembly plant and trio of battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. Jeep maker Stellantis NV is planning a US battery plant with Samsung SDI Co.

Battery JV

Prime Planet is a Japan-based battery manufacturer that formally began operations last year. Toyota owns 51% of the venture, while Panasonic holds 49%. It currently claims the top share of around 25% of the market for hybrid batteries and is looking to grow its presence in the EV battery sector as well. 

Toyota has been slower than rivals to build an EV presence in the US and embrace tighter vehicle emissions standards. In October, the company pledged to invest US$3.4 billion in automotive batteries in the US over the next decade, part of a larger plan to earmark ¥1.5 trillion (RM55.05 billion) for battery development and production globally through 2030.

The Japanese company has been one of the loudest critics of proposed legislation in Congress backed by the Biden administration that favours EVs made in US factories with unionised workforces for the most generous subsidies.

Toyota, which operates 10 non-union plants in the US, aims to start local production of batteries in 2025. The company said last month it will initially spend around US$1.3 billion in conjunction with its trading arm, Toyota Tsusho Corp, to develop land and build facilities, creating 1,750 jobs.

Budget bill

In a budget bill signed into law on Thursday (Nov 18) by governor Roy Cooper, the state is offering US$135 million in aid to an unspecified manufacturer interested in the Greensboro industrial park and which will commit, among other things, to “investing at least one billion dollars in private funds and creating at least 1,750 eligible positions”.

An additional US$185 million in funding will be provided if the manufacturer boosts its investment to US$3 billion and increases the job creation to at least 3,875 eligible positions on the site, according to the bill.

A spokesman for North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger said the state doesn’t comment on economic development projects until they’re finalised. Details in the bill of the site subsidies were reported earlier by the Triad Business Journal, a Greensboro-based trade publication.

Toyota announced in February that it will introduce two all-electric vehicles in the US starting from next year, namely a mainstream crossover called the bZ4X and an upscale Lexus model built on the same platform. Those will be its first wholly battery-powered vehicles in the US since it stopped producing an all-electric version of its bestselling RAV4 crossover seven years ago.