Ellesmere Port’s Vauxhall factory, which closed three times in nearly 60 years of the automobile manufacturer’s operational history, has now become the United Kingdom’s first mass-produced electric vehicle plant. The incident has now marked a milestone in the British automobile industry’s fossil fuel transition.
The Cheshire plant will produce 50,000 electric vans annually under Stellantis’ Vauxhall, Opel, Peugeot, Citroën, and Fiat brands, with passenger vehicle versions from 2024 onwards.
Newly installed robots follow floor lines in the 1960s shed. Around the plant, they transport 50-kilowatt-hour batteries that can go 175 miles. On-site batteries are built using Chinese cells before being hauled up and fastened to the van’s metal bodies for “marriage.”
Switching to electric vans before a 2035 ban on new petrol and diesel sales will help the United Kingdom reach net zero carbon emissions. Van carbon emissions are rising because of internet shopping orders.
“It is vital for the United Kingdom to switch to electric vans to do our bit on climate change and clean up our choking cities,” said New AutoMotive thinktank CEO Ben Nelmes.
Factory director Diane Miller said, “We don’t have to worry about whether we’ll change away from the internal combustion engine. We’re there.”
Stellantis invested 100 million pounds in the facility, which has produced 4.1 million Vauxhall cars since 1985, in 2021. It spent another 30 million pounds upgrading the body panel press shop and installing new electrical generators.
The factory’s opening was “a major boost for UK auto,” according to University of Birmingham business economics lecturer David Bailey. Bailey noted that post-Brexit tariffs were “a large caveat to this good news story”.
At the 2023 end, electric car imports to the EU, the United Kingdom’s main export market, will be taxed unless they contain enough UK or EU material. That is impossible with Chinese cells until planned European “gigafactories” catch up.
James Taylor, managing director at Vauxhall, says tariffs would hurt electric cars, which already have a lower total cost of ownership. Stellantis, which makes larger Vauxhall vans in Luton, wants an extension until 2027 and warns that operations could be at risk.
Taylor stated, “Anything that adds costs to that equation isn’t in anyone’s favor, because we all want to get to a cleaner, greener, electric future as soon as we can. Something that shifts that balance toward ICE and away from electric isn’t welcome.”
British carmaking did not always thrive in Ellesmere Port. Although near Liverpool and Manchester, Britain’s primary ports and the core of the Industrial Revolution, most of the early automobile industry was in the West Midlands or elsewhere.
However, the Conservative administration distributed industries in the early 1960s. Although plants were distributed across the country, some, such as Linwood, Renfrewshire, and Speke, Merseyside, were affected by the 70s and 80s auto industry instability.
Ellesmere Port and the Jaguar Land Rover factory in Halewood, across the Mersey, employ hundreds. The Halewood JLR facility and the Ford gearbox factory next door have also gone electric.
Business minister Kemi Badenoch called the Stellantis investment “a very visible demonstration that this government has got the right plan for the UK’s automotive sector”.
After months of warnings that it was contemplating Spain, JLR’s owner, Tata Motors, announced in July 2023 that it would build electric car batteries in the UK.
Regulators are pressuring all leading UK and European Union automakers to sell more electric cars to reduce carbon emissions. Nelmes believes Stellantis’ electric vehicle production will help it fulfil the new targets.
The New Automotive CEO said Britain’s zero emissions legislation in January 2023 would boost Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port-made electric vehicles.