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Bridgend plant closure all about EVs emerging from China, not Brexit

Across all the UK media outlets are interviews with people from Bridgend in Wales, over the closure of its engine factory, and none of the national media initially – TV, Newspapers and Radio – even mentioned the fact that emergence of EVs are the reason for it. Most simply bemoaned the loss of 1,700 or so jobs, but in follow ups with Ford’s guidance, the real culprit was identified – who needs engines in a world of Electric vehicles?

We repeat the formula. EVs need electricity, and it has to be made locally, and they need about the same amount of extra electricity that would replace the $4.5 trillion petroleum market. So what the EV takes away with one hand – Engines, replaced by Electric drive trains – it can give back with the other – Renewable energy across the valleys of Wales, bringing replacement jobs and absorbing the workforce at Bridgend.

For some years the Bridgend factory was on notice – aware that they had to compete for future engines with other factories and similarly aware that Ford may not need a future engine at all. It is not a University town, so it could not come up with an EV drivetrain design itself, but it could have partnered locally with another Welsh University, but that opportunity has now slipped past it. Instead Ford ended up acquiring a design when it invested last month into Michigan’s Rivian, throwing $500 million into the 750 strong EV startup and announcing plans to build a vehicle on Rivian’s electric vehicle platform. Given that Ford already has both hybrids and EVs, especially commercial vehicles and high performance cars, and has a partnership with VW in Germany, it seems that Rivian will replace whatever it has used in existing EV cars.

What has happened since 2010 is a dawning awareness in Bridgend of renewables, and this has led to projects like the Caerau mine-water project near Maesteg, which will take water from the flooded coal mines which used to be the economic hub of the region before Ford. This water happens to be at 20 degrees, and it will be used to heat local homes using heat exchangers. The town is also home to a number of renewable developers, including Infinite Renewables Group which builds out merchant power schemes for commercial clients and already has around 10MW of generation on its books.

EV cars will soon come in volume to wales, so eMobility will create jobs, more wind farms will create jobs, there is the possibility that jobs will come in renewable tidal lagoon projects, and solar is a no brainer for a part of the country which has to work out how to combine farming with renewable energy, which is of course well understood.

Given that factory workers knew this was a possibility, why wasn’t more done in renewables locally, some government stimulus created, and why did an electric drive train genius not smash the Bridgend plant door down to help them create an EV candidate like Rivian.

Instead Bridgend got the mission to build the EcoBoost Dragon engine, about 30% more efficient than current engines, a task it shares with Cleveland and Valencia in Spain, with the smaller versions being made in Cologne Germany and in Romania. The shift totally away from future petrol engines has come faster than ford expected, and will mean the end of all this activity, not just that at Bridgend. Predicted volumes were reported for the new Dragon engine at 250,000, then fell to 125,000, and then to 70,000. It is likely they will not be needed at all.

While we are sure that this was all fairly inevitable, and there is worse to come (see separate article in this issue) with China likely to overtake US car makers in the EV market, this marriage of a US company to oil, petroleum products and the old way of doing things is really what’s at fault. Ford has clung too long to the old car world, and now its factory workers will have to take the consequences.

Union officials are up in arms over the closure and they have every right to be  given that Ford has changed tack at the very top of its  US management and very recently at that, and strategy change has been swept along by EV surges in China to change its business model or die.

The best hope that the Union has is to approach Vestas to use some of the factory space to build components for local wind farms, and lobby for more and more of them to be built for the local countryside. After all they are the petrol of the future EVs, Ford’s or otherwise.

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