French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire once described it as a "Copernican revolution by two Galileos, France and Germany" to have re-established European industrial policy in 2019 with his then German counterpart Peter Altmaier (CDU). This included the realization that future technologies such as "green" hydrogen technology, e-car batteries or semiconductors could not exist without partial public funding.

Niklas Záboji

Business correspondent in Paris

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Almost four years later, the new industrial policy continues to take shape. The ceremonial opening of the first german-French battery cell factory is planned for this Tuesday, which is expected to be attended by several French ministers, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) and Italy's "Minister for Enterprise and 'Made in Italy'", Adolfo Urso, in Billy-Berclau in northern France. The CEO of Mercedes, Ola Källenius, has also confirmed his participation after his trip to the Formula 1 race in Monaco, the same applies to the bosses of the car manufacturer Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, and the energy group Totalenergies, Patrick Pouyanné.

Through their joint venture, the Automotive Cells Company (ACC), founded in 2020, Mercedes, Stellantis and the Totalenergies offshoot Saft are investing around 2 billion euros in the new plant. It is the first of three locations where ACC wants to produce battery cells for electric cars, although according to a spokesperson it is still unclear which car manufacturer will purchase which quantities, and in addition to Mercedes and European Stellantis brands such as Citroën, Opel and Fiat, it is also possible to supply third parties. A second plant is being built in Kaiserslautern, where it is scheduled to open in 2025, and a third in Termoli, Italy.

Reduction of dependency

Through the EU's IPCEI programme, which defines "important projects of common European interest", the ACC says it has received €850 million in support from the French state for its overall activities in France. In addition to the new factory, these included the construction of the company's headquarters, a development center and a pilot factory in the southwest of the country.

While battery cells for electric cars have recently been manufactured in Germany by the Chinese company CATL, Billy-Berclau is the prelude for France. In the future, ACC plans to employ 2000,20 people in the small community in the Pas-de-Calais department, which has been considered structurally weak since the decline of coal mining, textiles and the steel industry. In the last presidential election, the majority of voters here voted for the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, whose adopted home of Hénin-Beaumont is a <>-minute drive southeast of the new factory.

For Paris, the reindustrialization of the northeast is therefore a means of regional policy, but the subsidization of battery cell production is also aimed at reducing dependence on China, according to the French Ministry of Economy. For this reason, other links in the value chain, such as the extraction of lithium in Alsace and the Massif Central, are also being promoted.

Tesla could also settle there

President Emmanuel Macron has proclaimed the goal of producing two million electric cars a year on French soil by 2030. Battery cell production in Billy-Berclau plays an important role in this: At 13.4 gigawatt hours, the annual capacity of the first unit is more than one and a half times higher than that of the CATL plant near Erfurt. By 2030, the other two units are scheduled to go into operation and achieve a capacity of around 40 gigawatt hours. Mathematically, this is enough for 800,000 vehicles.

Three more battery cell factories are to be built in France with state aid: in Dunkirk by the French start-up Verkor and Prologium from Taiwan and in Douai by Envision AESC from Japan. Medium-term domestic demand is likely to be exceeded and exports are likely to become possible, it was said in Paris.

Since the investments are all concentrated in the French northeast, where the plants of car manufacturers such as Renault or Toyota are located, there is talk of a "Battery Valley" based on Silicon Valley. Tesla could also settle there: Elon Musk recently held out the prospect of "significant investments in France".