SK Innovation’s $2.6 billion plant under construction in Georgia could be threatened by a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling against the company.
Photo courtesy of the plant’s builder, Clayco

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) has banned South Korea’s SK Innovation (SKI) from providing electric vehicle (EV) batteries for 10 years, threatening launch plans for Ford and Volkswagen, especially high- profile vehicles such as the Ford F-150 EV.

LG Chem, General Motors’ main EV battery supplier, had sued SKI, asking the ITC for the ban as punishment for allegedly stealing trade secrets. SKI hired several of LG’s top scientists in what LG claims led to theft of LG intellectual property (IP).

In mid-February, the ITC ruled in LG’s favor and enacted the 10-year ban. SKI is almost finished building a $2.6 billion EV battery plant in Georgia to supply Ford and VW with batteries for several highly-anticipated EVs.

“SKI’s total disregard of our warnings and intellectual property rights gave us no choice but to file this case,” says Kim Jong-hyun, CEO of LG Energy Solution, adding that the company would continue pressing IP cases.

The ITC’s order allows SKI to sell to Ford for four years and VW for two years, SKI can also import batteries and parts to provide replacements and service for some Kia vehicles. However, longer term, automakers could be forced to find new suppliers. Officials from LG and SKI have said they are open to settlement talks, and several analysts told news agencies that they expect a big check from SKI to LG to eventually settle the issue before Ford or VW have to find new partners.

There are also political avenues open that could prevent the ITC order. President Joe Biden, who has made expanding U.S. production of EVs and batteries a major priority for his administration, has until April to block enforcement of the order, a step SKI officials have encouraged him to take. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also urged Biden to protect the SKI facility and the 2,600 jobs it’s expected to bring to Jackson County, northwest of Athens, Georgia.

“The International Trade Commission’s recent ruling puts SKI’s significant investment in 2,600 clean energy jobs and innovative manufacturing in peril during a pandemic that has created unprecedented challenges and hardship for countless families here in Georgia, and across the country,” Kemp says. “Litigation in these disputes is always complex, and there are several additional levels of review prior to a final resolution – along with the possibility of a settlement. President Biden and his administration also have the opportunity to support thousands of hardworking Georgians – and their communities – who would benefit from SK Innovation’s continued success in our state.”

Biden has been silent on the issue so far. The dispute between LG and SKI pits two South Korean electronics giants against each other, both of which are building massive battery plants in the U.S. LG is GM’s partner on a $2.3 billion Ultium Cells battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that should be providing units for the GMC Hummer EV pickup later this year. http://eng.skinnovation.com; https://www.lgchem.com; https://www.ultiumcell.com; https:// www.usitc.gov