BMW Drags Feet on Merkel’s Call for German Battery Champions

BMW AG isn’t showing much enthusiasm to get on board with a German government push to establish battery cell production in Europe, slowing a plan to create an industry that keeps pace with Asian rivals and get on the front foot on elusive climate goals.

“I don’t believe it makes sense for every carmaker to make their own cells,” BMW’s Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Munich Tuesday. The company is happy to join a consortium or work with existing producers, but doesn’t see the need to go beyond that, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel held a three-hour meeting with the chief executive officers of BMW, Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG Monday in Berlin to redouble efforts to boost electric car adoption. The discussion ended without concrete results, adding to a sense of slow motion on the switch to cleaner vehicles.

While BMW is balking, Volkswagen in May selected Northvolt AB as its partner to start production of battery cells in Germany with an investment of almost 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion). BMW owns a stake in Northvolt alongside VW, which it plans to raise in the near future, while staying below Volkswagen.

A plan by Germany and France to establish an “Airbus” of battery-cell production in Europe is struggling on concerns existing Asian producers are better positioned to lower the costs of the key electric-car product.

Not Enough

Following the meeting, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer criticized the nation’s biggest industry for not building enough electric cars.

“I have a bit of a problem with the fact that the interesting products will only appear in the next few years,” Scheuer said. “Where can consumers right now look in car shops at different products and experience electric mobility first hand?”

Merkel’s government is under pressure from young voters who say it’s not doing enough to meet climate goals. It’s seeking to redouble efforts to modernize the car industry and build out a charging network for 7 million to 10 million electric cars by 2030. Germany currently has about 17,000 public chargers.

Talks will resume to prepare plans to expand the electric car infrastructure. A decision is due in the fall at another meeting with carmakers and the government in Berlin.