SK Innovation awaits ruling on $2.6 billion Georgia battery plant

It can seek a special review by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on grounds that abandoning the Georgia project would cause undue hardship for the U.S. auto industry. That avenue ultimately would require the involvement of the U.S. president, just as a contentious election is taking place.

Another option would be for SK and LG Chem to negotiate a settlement — a common outcome in high-stakes legal impasses such as this. There has been speculation in the Korean press that such negotiations are already in progress.

Meanwhile, state officials have warned that the worst-case scenario of shutting down the project will hurt Georgia’s economy. The state is providing $300 million in incentives to support the battery plant.

The issue illustrates some new auto industry realities: The competition in EVs requires vast amounts of industrial investment to produce batteries. And despite the nature of EV batteries as seeming commodities, they are highly engineered components that cannot easily be re-sourced or redesigned.

This year, Ford weighed in on the SK-LG Chem standoff with a letter through its attorneys to the International Trade Commission. Ford is counting on the SK batteries for its electric F-150, and no other “EV battery supplier is able to provide EV battery cells that satisfy Ford’s technical or U.S. supply requirements for the fully electric F-150,” said the letter submitted by law firm Duane Morris. “EV batteries cannot simply be swapped like batteries in a flashlight.”

Meanwhile, SK has been rapidly adding manufacturing capacity around the world to capitalize on the industry’s growing plans for EVs. It has expanded its plans for the Georgia site, upping its investment by 30 percent to $2.6 billion and increasing the number of workers it expects to hire there from 2,000 to 2,600.

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