Japanese automakers are accelerating investments to secure storage batteries for electric vehicles and gas-electric hybrid vehicles, as part of efforts to survive what’s been described as the auto industry’s biggest transformation in 100 years.
Batteries are indispensable for the electrification of motor vehicles, needed to achieve a decarbonized society. The stable procurement of batteries and the reduction of related costs will determine whether automakers can stay in business amid the global shift from gasoline-fueled automobiles to electric vehicles.
Toyota Motor Corp. announced a plan in September last year to invest a total of ¥1.5 trillion by 2030 to expand the production of batteries. The sum includes ¥1 trillion to increase the number of production lines for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, from two at present to some 70, mainly through the construction of new factories.
Japan’s biggest automaker will also seek to halve the cost of batteries, which are estimated to account for 30% of the expense of producing an electric vehicle.
As part of the plan, Toyota will spend around $3.4 billion on plant construction and other projects in the United States. It plans to begin producing batteries for hybrid vehicles in 2025 at a company it will establish jointly with Toyota Tsusho Corp., a trading house in the Toyota group.
In addition to lithium-ion batteries, Toyota is promoting the development of an all-solid-state battery capable of drastically improving the performance of electric vehicles. All-solid-state batteries are expected to give electric vehicles greater range than can be achieved with lithium-ion batteries.
Toyota is looking to put such batteries into practical use in the first half of the 2020s, and has already begun test-driving vehicles powered by them. It plans to use them first in hybrid vehicles.
Meanwhile, rival automakers are stepping up efforts to protect their leading positions in the electric vehicle market.
Envision AESC Japan Ltd., a joint venture in the city of Zama, in Kanagawa Prefecture, between Nissan Motor Co. and Chinese green technology company Envision Group, said in August last year that it would spend ¥50 billion to build an electric vehicle battery plant in Ibaraki Prefecture. Expected to be the biggest such factory in the nation, it is expected to start mass production as early as 2024 and to supply Nissan and other automakers, Envision AESC said.
Honda Motor Co. acquired a stake of around 1% in leading Chinese battery producer Contemporary Aperex Technology Co. in July last year to jointly develop a new lithium-ion battery for use in its electric vehicles.
Among overseas automakers, Volkswagen AG of Germany will build six battery plants in Europe by 2030 in cooperation with a leading Swedish battery manufacturer and other concerns, adding fuel to intensifying international competition in the electric vehicle battery market.
The global market for batteries for motor vehicles is projected to reach ¥26,466 billion by 2035, up around 850% from 2020, according to Tokyo-based research company Fuji Keizai Co.
Competition between countries to support the production of batteries is increasing.
The Japanese government plans to assist with the construction of large-scale production facilities of motor vehicle batteries in the nation under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s policy of reinforcing economic security. In spring, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will draw up a strategy to strengthen the international competitiveness of the nation’s storage battery industry.
Away from the automotive industry, storage batteries are also seen as indispensable to help coordinate future electricity supply with demand, in order to increase the use of renewable energy sources — the output from which is still unstable.
With China, the United States and Europe moving ahead in providing aid to storage battery producers, the Japanese government is poised to step up support for their production.