Georgia Wants to Be US Hub for EVs—Batteries Included

·5 min read
Photo credit: Volkswagen
Photo credit: Volkswagen
  • All eyes are on Georgia after the state landed EV plants for Rivian and Hyundai, which means thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments.

  • Plus, Georgia scored an SK Innovation EV battery plant that opened in January, with plans to further expand next year.

  • Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant will soon begin assembling ID.4 EVs, and the automaker recently opened a battery engineering facility there (climate chamber pictured above).

One big advantage in assembling battery-electric vehicles near the factories where their battery packs are made is that the packs can be charged and checked—no duds—before loading them onto a truck or freight train and avoid having to recharge them at the assembly plant. This reduces the need for battery pack storage space in auto assembly plants that rely on just-in-time delivery.

Much of North America’s nascent BEV production is in assembly plants converted, or partially converted, from traditional internal-combustion-powered vehicle production, including Tesla’s first plant, in Fremont, California.

New factories such as Tesla’s Cybertruck plant in Austin, Texas, are a big prize for state governments willing to exchange free land and tax incentives for thousands of blue-collar jobs. It’s a bi-partisan win, with Republicans stereotypically applauding the new business and Democrats stereotypically applauding the green technology built in their home state.

Last December Rivian (and last May Hyundai) announced plans to build brand-new electric-vehicle assembly plants in Georgia, which until now has just one auto assembly plant, manufacturing gas-powered Kias. Hyundai will spend $7 billion on an 8,500-employee assembly plant (which may build some ICE vehicles, too), and Rivian has just snagged $1.5 billion in incentives and land to build its $5 billion, 7,500-employee assembly plant in the state.

Georgia had already signed a deal with battery-pack supplier SK Innovation in 2019 for a 2600-employee factory in exchange for $300 million in incentives and free land. The plant opened in January, and an additional 400 people are expected to be hired by the end of 2023. SK is a subsidiary of SunKyong, which includes an oil refinery division—it built the first oil refineries in South Korea, in 1962, according to a company website. SunKyong is believed to be the only company connected to the oil industry that also is getting into the EV business.

Hyundai, Rivian, SK, and the smaller EV suppliers that inevitably will spring up make Georgia a potential eco-system for EV production in the Southeast. Mercedes-Benz and Honda plants in Alabama; Volvo and BMW plants in South Carolina; Volkswagen, Nissan, and General Motors in Tennessee; and Ford, Toyota, and GM in Kentucky may have reason to tap the Georgia EV hub before the end of the decade.

“We’ve been very aggressive going after electric-vehicle production,” says Pat Wilson, Georgia Department of Economic Development commissioner. It began during the transition period between Gov. Nathan Deal and Brian Kemp (both Republicans) in 2019, he says. Kemp and Wilson visited Mercedes-Benz and Porsche on a January 2020 trade mission and returned impressed with Mercedes’ BEV plans.

“Not only is electrification coming, but if you have Porsche, which has built some of the best engines in the history of the auto, going electric, it’s happening aggressively.” That visit led to a strategic initiative to build out an electrification ecosystem.

Of course, Wilson would not reveal any future deals with EV automakers, but he said there is a lot of potential for Georgia to grow its list of suppliers.

Photo credit: General Motors
Photo credit: General Motors

Here are the other locations that have a chance to become hubs for the emerging EV business:

Michigan and Ohio: General Motors’ Hamtramck plant near Detroit will build the GMC Hummer EV, and nearby Orion Township will build the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV/GMC Sierra EV. Both are near GM’s Lansing Township Ultium battery plant in Michigan. Ultium battery packs also will be built in Youngstown, Ohio, in a GM factory that was supposed to supply to Lordstown Motors in the old Chevrolet Cruze factory. In Michigan, Ford Blue is building the F-150 Lightning in its Dearborn River Rouge Plant, and a future Mustang EV is slated for the conventional Mustang’s Flat Rock factory, while a Ranger EV is expected later this decade in Wayne Assembly.

South Carolina and Tennessee: Volvo has promised to go 100% EV by 2030, and there are unconfirmed reports it will add production of a new EV model to its under-utilized South Carolina global S60 sedan assembly plant. Likewise, Volkswagen’s Tennessee assembly plant has more capacity, and the German automaker will start producing its ID.4 EV there next month. Both are sufficiently close to Georgia to take advantage of its suppliers’ battery production.

Wild Cards: Ford Mustang Mach-e is assembled in the Cuautitlan plant with battery housings from Mexican company Nemak (known for conventional engine blocks and cylinder heads). GM’s Cadillac Lyriq launching later this year will be assembled at the old Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which is about 575 miles from either Lansing Township or Youngstown. Considering the likely difference in volume between Cadillac’s first EV and Saturn in its heyday, there may be more space in the factory to store Ultium cells.

Tesla Triangle: Tesla’s oldest assembly plant, the former NUMMI GM-Toyota plant in Fremont, California, is about 250 miles from its Storey County, Nevada, battery-cell plant. The Cybertruck plant under construction in Austin, Texas, is 1750 miles from Storey County, although Tesla plans to make batteries in Austin as well. Tesla’s use of small, smartphone-sized cells makes storage and transport less of an issue, however.