SK supplies batteries for Ford's F-150 Lightning. Is a joint venture next?

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
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Hours after Ford Motor Co. introduces its all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck, the Dearborn automaker will provide an update on the company's EV batteries.

The virtual news conference will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday after the Blue Oval debuts the Lightning truck at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. Supplying the pickup's batteries and Ford's other new EV launches is SK Innovation Co. Ltd, Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Flake said.

President Joe Biden stops to talk to the media as he drives a Ford F-150 Lightning truck at Ford Dearborn Development Center, Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Dearborn.

Ford and the South Korean battery maker are expected to announce a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture in the United States to support the production ramp-up of the Blue Oval's EVs that eventually could include a jointly owned plant to make battery cells, Reuters reported Wednesday afternoon, citing unnamed sources.

Flake was unable to confirm SK's inclusion in the Thursday event, only saying the company is a valued supplier. The Detroit News could not immediately reach SK for comment.

Last month, SK agreed to pay $1.8 billion to competitor LG Energy Solution, a wholly owned subsidiary of LG Chem Ltd. The payment was to settle LG's accusations that SK stole its intellectual property. The case had put SK's battery cell plant in Georgia at risk. The plant will supply Ford and Volkswagen AG later this year with a second building already planned.

General Motors Co. is building facilities with LG in Ohio and Tennessee to make batteries for its EVs. Jeep and Ram maker Stellantis NV has partnered with French oil and gas company Total SE to build gigafactories in France and Germany, and CEO Carlos Tavares says movement is underway to deliver a way for the company to produce its own batteries in North America.

President Joe Biden, during a visit Tuesday to Ford's EV plant in Dearborn, championed his administration's role in brokering the settlement between LG and SK. He called for approval of his $174 billion EV proposal that would provide taxpayer-funded grants to build new battery plants.

The battery-electric version of the F-150 pickup truck will be called the F-150 Lightning.

In addition to the Lightning that is expected to be available in the middle of next year, Ford has its all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV and is electrifying its Transit van later this year.

During a March earnings call, Ford CEO Jim Farley emphasized the need for major brands like Ford to vertically integrate major EV parts to be competitive.

"In the first inning, we could buy off the shelf and cherry-pick the technology and energy density and the cost," he said at the time. "We've totally entered a different zone now, with our planned volumes going up so much. So we've already made the decision of vertically integrating the company. ...  And now it's time for us to lock in on the latest technology and to have a secure cell production relationship."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

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