In nearly 60 years of making cars Ellesmere Port’s Vauxhall factory had come close to the end several times, said the Unite union convener John Cooper, standing beside the body of an electric van on the production line. Last-minute negotiations saved the plant each time, but it was a close-run thing.
Things have changed now: on Thursday the site began production as the UK’s first factory dedicated purely to producing electric vehicles at scale. It is a landmark moment in the shift away from fossil fuels for the British automotive industry.
The plant, by the River Mersey in Cheshire, will assemble 50,000 electric vans a year under the Stellantis group’s Vauxhall, Opel, Peugeot, Citroën and Fiat badges, with passenger car versions to come next year.
Inside the 1960s shed, newly installed robots trundle around following lines on the floor. They carry 50-kilowatt-hour batteries – enough to go 175 miles – around the plant. The batteries are assembled on-site, using cells from China, before they reach the “marriage” stage of life: being lifted up to be bolted to the bottom of the van’s metal bodies.
Shifting to electric vans before a 2035 ban on new petrol and diesel sales will be a key part of cutting the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero. Carbon emissions from vans have been increasing, in part because of the boom in online retail orders.
Read more: TheGuardian