Increasing battery sales are reflected in the balance sheets of the Korean battery cell manufacturers LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation. In the first quarter of 2021, both groups posted a year-on-year increase in sales of 88 and 80 per cent, respectively.
Turning first to LG Energy Solution, LG Chem’s battery division, the company posted record sales and profits in Q1 2021. Revenue was the equivalent of 3.14 billion euros, up 88 per cent year-on-year and 3 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2020. Profit was the equivalent of €252 million (compared to -€38 million in Q1 2020, €115 million in Q2 2020, €125 million in Q3 2020 and -€325 million in Q4 2020). Given an operating margin of 8.0 per cent, the group’s recently separated division presented itself highly profitable from January to March. LG Energy Solution accounts for 44 per cent of LG Chem’s total sales, according to the financial statement.
LG manufactures battery cells in production facilities in South Korea, the USA, Poland and China. In addition, the Koreans act as a joint venture partner of General Motors and will soon start up a first production plant in Lordstown in the US state of Ohio. A second plant has been announced for Spring Hill in the state of Tennessee. The investment plans in the USA will benefit from the 1.8 billion US dollars that LG will receive in the course of the out-of-court settlement with its South Korean competitor SK Innovation in the United States.
Speaking of which, SK Innovation also reported rising battery sales for Q1 2021 – up around 80 per cent year-on-year to the equivalent of €389 million. However, the bottom line for SKI’s battery business was a loss of around 131 million euros. The operating margin in the first quarter was -34 per cent – below the two previous quarters. SK Innovation attributes this primarily to the high investment costs for new factories abroad. However, the above-mentioned settlement of the legal dispute with LG Energy Solution also plays a role.
SK Innovation is currently investing heavily in new battery plants in Europe, China and the USA. The company also recently announced plans to set up a joint venture with Ford to produce battery cells and modules for use in the US carmaker’s electric vehicles. The joint venture, called BlueOvalSK, aims to have an annual production capacity of 60 GWh.
Regardless of the joint venture plans, SKI is primarily expanding its production capacities in the USA after the court battle. The company currently operates a 10 GWh battery cell plant in Commerce, Georgia. There, it is scheduled to switch from trial to series operation at the beginning of 2022. A second factory with a planned 12 GWh is under construction – also in Georgia. Series production there is planned for 2023. SK Innovation currently has a global production capacity of 40 GWh. The group has repeatedly mentioned a target of 125 GWh for 2025, but has recently revised this upwards: “Thanks to the JV, we expect a higher target of 190 GWh by 2025.
The group is focusing on the development and commercialisation of NCM battery technology with a high nickel content. Currently, SKI sells mainly NCM-811 batteries (i.e. eighty per cent nickel, ten per cent manganese and ten per cent cobalt).
With reporting by Cora Werwitzke, France.