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The Guardian view on Britain’s electric vehicle industry: slow-motion car crash | Editorial

The struggles of a flagship battery manufacturer point to a wider malaise

Earlier this year Boris Johnson predicted that a planned £3.8bn gigafactory in Blyth, built by a startup company called Britishvolt, would soon be “at the helm of a global green industrial revolution”. As with so many of Mr Johnson’s boosterish claims regarding Britain’s journey to net zero, facts on the ground have signally failed to keep pace with sunny rhetoric. Britishvolt’s vast site on the north-east coast remains a muddy field. This month, having failed to persuade the new business secretary, Grant Shapps, to ease its cashflow problems, the company finds itself more or less broke and up for sale.

To put this depressing story in its proper perspective, it has been estimated that 41 gigafactories are either operational or planned in western Europe, compared with just three in Britain (and that’s if Britishvolt is optimistically included). Governments in Germany, France and elsewhere have spent billions of euros to attract leading battery manufacturers, who will be fundamental to 21st-century car production. The strategic logic at work is not difficult to grasp: in the future, manufacturers will be based where access to batteries is local and straightforward; a fully functioning domestic supply chain will also be safeguarded from external shocks, and generate jobs to compensate for those lost in the transition away from petrol and diesel.

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