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Samsung SDI pushes back on report about Rivian battery joint venture talks

Samsung has reportedly been searching for a location for a battery cell plant in the U.S.
Ahn Young-joon
Samsung SDI is supplying the battery cells for Rivian’s launch vehicles, which are being made in Normal. It also supplies other EV makers.

The electric battery maker Samsung SDI on Wednesday called into question the accuracy of a recently published report about its relationship with Rivian.

TheElec, an online publication that follows the Korean electronics industry, reported on Friday that Samsung SDI and Rivian were in talks about a potential joint venture – but that those talks had fallen apart. Citing unnamed sources, TheElec reported that Rivian made certain requests that were unacceptable to Samsung SDI and that “this is why Samsung SDI instead announced a partnership with Stellantis” in October. The automaker Stellantis makes Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler, and Ram vehicles.

The article has circulated widely online, including among Rivian watchers, even though no major media outlets that closely cover Rivian have reported on any breakdown in talks between Rivian and Samsung. The topic has special significance in Normal, where Rivian is making its electric vehicles and already employs over 4,400 people. WGLT first reported in August that Samsung, which supplied Rivian with battery cells for its launch vehicles, was considering Normal for an EV battery plant right next to Rivian. (At that time, Samsung had reportedly not decided whether to launch its first U.S. plant as a joint venture with an automaker or as an independent manufacturing site.)

But there have been no public updates on Samsung-in-Normal since, leading to speculation the idea is dead.

This week, WGLT asked Samsung SDI for a comment on the accuracy of TheElec’s report.

“Samsung SDI (has) not specifically discussed battery JV (joint venture) with Rivian,” said Samsung SDI spokesperson Yangmo Ku. “And it is hard to fact-check the article, but some information is not true.”

Joint ventures are becoming increasingly common between automakers and battery suppliers, as the auto industry tries to scale up EV production. There are at least 13 EV battery plants announced across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Of those 13, eight are joint ventures between automakers and battery manufacturers.

One of those 13 plants is the Samsung SDI and Stellantis joint venture announced in October. A location for that plant, which will make battery cells and modules, has not yet been announced.

Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe confirmed during a quarterly earnings call in December that his company is pursuing joint venture-type relationships with battery makers, although he did not disclose with whom. Rivian is pursuing three “parallel approaches” to batteries that are not mutually exclusive, Scaringe said. They are:

Path 1: Buying existing cells from a supplier, from existing capacity. That’s what Rivian initially did with Samsung SDI to get its cells for its launch vehicles (now in production). Rivian cited Samsung SDI’s focus on “responsible sourcing of battery materials” and the reliability of its cells. “We don’t see a lot more deals like that across the industry. As demand for cells starts to climb, we need to be building new capacity,” Scaringe said.

Path 2: Creating “co-investing capacity with cell suppliers,” or joint ventures. That would mean Rivian and a battery maker share the cost of building new battery-manufacturing capacity, possibly nearby to a Rivian vehicle plant. Rivian will be pursuing this, Scaringe said, but it hasn’t “announced those relationships yet.” So even if Rivian doesn’t pair up with Samsung for a Normal battery site, that doesn’t mean Rivian may not find another dance partner – or another path – to local production.

Path 3: Leaning even more into vertical integration, Rivian will make the cells itself – controlling its design and even sourcing of the raw materials that go inside. Rivian plans to pilot this work starting in late 2022, Scaringe said. “Vertical integration doesn’t mean the first two categories (see above) don’t remain super-important. It’s simply in response to our intended growth,” he said.

Rivian announced in mid-December it would be building a $5 billion, second manufacturing plant in Georgia. It will have more employees and capacity than its first facility in Normal.

At that time, Rivian said the plant would eventually have “co-located cell production,” meaning on-site battery cell production in partnership with another company. But just because Rivian is doing “co-located cell production” in Georgia, that doesn’t mean it won’t do the same in Normal.

More details could come in March at Rivian’s next quarterly financial update. Rivian does not typically reveal much new information outside of those updates, including declining to comment for this story.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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