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SK likely to launch battery JV with Ford, build plant in US

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won heads to the departure gate at Seoul Gimpo Business Aviation Center in Banghwa-dong, Gangse-gu, on Wednesday. (Kim Byung-wook/The Korea Herald)
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won heads to the departure gate at Seoul Gimpo Business Aviation Center in Banghwa-dong, Gangse-gu, on Wednesday. (Kim Byung-wook/The Korea Herald)
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who is currently visiting the US as part of the unofficial business delegation of President Moon Jae-in’s first summit with President Joe Biden, is likely to announce joint investment with Ford to build a new battery factory in the country.

According to a Reuters report Thursday, SK Innovation -- a battery-to-petrochemical unit of SK Group -- is set to sign an agreement with the US automaker to form a joint venture for the production of electric vehicle batteries in the US.

An SKI official here said an official statement will be released at 10 p.m. Korean time, while declining to confirm the report.

It is unclear whether the announcement would include key details of the envisioned factory, such as the amount of money to be spent, number of employees, or its location.

The joint venture is expected to fortify the current relationship between SKI and Ford. SKI is currently building its second battery factory in Georgia, which will produce 11.7 gigawatt-hours of batteries for Ford’s F-150 electric pickups once completed in 2023.

While in the United States, Chey will pay his first visit to the SKI battery plant. Moon is also scheduled to visit the plant during his four-day trip. The SKI-Ford deal could symbolize two countries’ EV partnership, industry watchers say.

The planned investment comes after a dramatic salvaging of SKI’s US business operations from a court-issued 10-year ban, stemming from the Korean firm’s legal battle with crosstown rival LG Energy Solution over technology theft.

Last month, SKI agreed to pay 2 trillion won ($1.7 billion) to LGES for stealing battery trade secrets in a last-minute out-of-court settlement which effectively salvaged SKI’s Georgia plant from shutdown. The deal was reportedly brokered by the White House.

The joint SKI-Ford company draws a parallel with Ultium Cells, a joint venture set up by LGES and General Motors in 2019. Last month, Ultium Cells said it would build a second battery factory in Tennessee worth $2.3 billion.

The joint venture will support SKI’s plan to expand its global battery production capacity to 125 gigawatt-hours by 2025 and take advantage of Biden’s $174-billion push for electric vehicles.

By Kim Byung-wook (kbw@heraldcorp.com)
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