Ford, GM in talks with Posco Chemical on battery metal hubs

POSCO processes lithium phosphate from SungEel to produce lithium carbonate for rechargeable battery makers LG and Samsung. (Image from archives)

Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and Stellantis NV are in talks with South Korea’s Posco Chemical Co. about potentially investing in plants producing electric-vehicle battery materials in North America, according to people familiar with the matter.

The factories would make cathode-active or anode materials — key ingredients for determining the energy density of lithium-ion batteries used in cars — said the people, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. The talks are preliminary and may not necessarily lead to a deal, according to the people. Posco Chemical is also talking to other automakers about similar investments, they added.

A spokesperson for Posco Chemical declined to comment, while representatives for Ford, Stellantis, and GM all declined to comment.

Posco Chemical’s Chief Executive Officer Min Kyung-zoon told reporters on Nov. 1 that the Korean company is in talks with three carmakers to build battery-materials plants in the US, without naming them. It already has a relationship with GM, in July signing a $10.8 billion deal to supply battery materials, bringing the total value of its contracts with the US carmaker to almost $17 billion.

GM is investing $35 billion to make its lineup fully electric by 2035, while Ford is plowing $50 billion into its pivot to EVs, with plans to build 2 million a year by 2026. Stellantis, the maker of Ram pickups and Jeep off-roaders, is targeting 75 fully-electric models by 2030 with annual sales of 5 million vehicles.

This rapid shift to EVs is making sourcing batteries — and the metals used in them — a key competitive battleground for automakers. In recent months the likes of Honda Motor Co., Ford and Stellantis have teamed with Korean battery makers LG Energy Solution Ltd., SK Innovation Co. and Samsung SDI Co. to invest billions in North American battery plants.

The race has only intensified as the US government pressures automakers to slash their reliance on Chinese batteries and materials — a major constraint given that China is home to the world’s two biggest EV battery makers and is a key source of battery metals such as lithium, cobalt and graphite.

Korean auto and battery makers have lobbied against the US moves, included in the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act. Teaming with US automakers on battery plants could help Posco Chemical comply with the changes, because it will be supplying the materials directly, not producing them in countries that don’t have a free trade agreement with the US.

Posco Chemical this week completed the expansion of its cathode-active materials plant in the Korean city of Gwangyang. The plant has an annual capacity of 90,000 tons, making it the biggest in the world with the ability to supply materials for 1 million EVs a year, the company said.

“Most orders for deliveries by 2026 have already been booked,” Chung Daehun, the head of the firm’s energy material business unit, said in an interview. “We are also looking for a site for a new plant in Europe, which can offer cheap electricity for us.”

The company is seeking to increase production of cathode-active materials to 610,000 tons by 2030 to hold around 20% of the global market.

(By Heejin Kim, with assistance from Gabrielle Coppola, Keith Naughton and David Welch)


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