Uphold trade ruling on electric-vehicle battery plant

Last week’s U.S. International Trade Commission decision could have far-reaching benefits for the local battery-cell plant being built in Lordstown because it effectively scales back some of the competition for the electric vehicle batteries that will be manufactured here.

Indeed, business monopolies are not something we generally support, but this case goes far beyond that. The trade commission determined that a competing battery manufacturer being built in Georgia used nefarious means to garner the technology needed to compete against our local $2.3 billion Ultium Cells LLC facility.

The trade commission ruled last week that South Korean company SK Innovation stole 22 trade secrets from competitor LG Energy Solution, a subsidiary of LG Chem. The ruling recommends that the company be barred from importing, making or selling batteries in the U.S. for 10 years.

LG Chem, of course, is partnering with General Motors on the Ultium Cells joint venture in Lordstown. Ultium Cells intends to start production here in early 2022. GM foresees the plant will be a major player in its plans for an all-electric future.

SK has contracts to supply batteries for an electric Ford F-150 truck and an electric Volkswagen SUV to be manufactured in Chattanooga, Tenn. The trade commission said SK can supply batteries to Ford Motor Co. for four years and to Volkswagen for two years, saying it had tailored its order not to disrupt those customers. SK also can repair and replace batteries in Kia vehicles that already have been sold.

A local expert said the ruling potentially opens a door for a more expansive customer base for Ultium Cells in the long run.

“In some ways, I think it makes other car companies that are thinking of building hybrids or electric vehicles maybe think more about getting close to the Lordstown facility because it looks like into the future there will be more stability with that plant than with SK Innovations,” Paul Sracic, political science professor at Youngstown State University, this week told our business writer Ron Selak Jr.

In the trade commission case, LG had accused SK of hiring away dozens of employees to steal battery technology. An administrative law judge last year ruled in LG’s favor, and now the trade commission has upheld the ruling.

SK Innovation responded that it has “serious concerns about the commercial and operational implications of this decision for the future of our EV-battery facility in Commerce, Georgia.” The state gave $300 million in free land, cash and other incentives for the factory, which is now partially built and is supposed to open in 2022.

As one would expect, Georgia officials are not accepting the trade commission’s ruling lying down.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp now has asked President Joe Biden to review the ruling against SK Innovation and override the decision. SK Innovation is building a $2.6 billion electric- vehicle battery plant in Georgia that the company has said would employ 2,600 workers.

Biden has 60 days in which he may review or block the ruling.

Local elected officials, business and development experts have been working hard to shift the Mahoning Valley’s automaking efforts into the next century. So far, there is much promise for our future. Those efforts can be drastically upended, however, if others in the industry are permitted to play by different rules.

President Biden must take all of this into consideration if and when he studies the International Trade Commission’s ruling. Upon review of the findings of the case, we are hopeful that Biden will do the right thing by guaranteeing that the United States’ intervention to correct this wrong is maintained.



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