By Costas Pitas
COVENTRY, England (Reuters) - Britain is moving towards creating a new national development hub for electric car batteries with officials setting out plans for companies to work together to improve the technology, possibly paving the way for large-scale local production.
Representatives from politics, academia and business in the central English city of Coventry, the historic heart of the British car industry, have pitched plans for a "National Battery Prototyping Centre" which would focus on research and development and testing.
Local government officials set out their plans to create the center, with state help, at an event on Tuesday attended by the business minister and by Ralf Speth, the chief executive of Britain's biggest carmaker, Jaguar Land Rover, who has said he wants to build electric models in the country.
"We expect public money support for this facility, that's what today is about," Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands region of central England, told Reuters.
Backers of the plan will submit the proposals to ministers with the goal of securing a slice of government funding for new technologies recently announced by Britain's Conservative government. A decision on the winning schemes is due soon after a June 8 general election.
Officials in the West Midlands hope their central location will make it a practical choice for a national center and they say their plan could ultimately create 10,000 jobs. They gave no estimate of how much a new center would cost.
Japan's Nissan already builds its electric Leaf at its north of England plant and Germany's BMW is due to decide by the end of the year whether to build a new electric Mini model at its plant in Oxford, although potential tariffs on vehicle exports after Brexit will be an important consideration.
Carmakers are racing to build greener vehicles and improve charge times in a bid to meet rising customer demand and meet air quality targets but Britain lacks sufficient manufacturing capacity, an area ministers have said they want to build up.
Speth told Reuters last year it made sense to build electric cars and batteries in the firm's home market but only if conditions such as pilot testing, support from science and energy supply were met.
The proposals, spearheaded by the Warwick Manufacturing Group which works with manufacturers and is based at Warwick University, go some way to meeting JLR's needs with hopes the firm will commit to production in the future.
The automaker's recent major investments have gone abroad with a new plant for conventional vehicles being built in Slovakia and plans for its first electric model, the I-PACE, to be made in Austria.
Ahead of next week's election, business minister Greg Clark said it was for the next administration to make investment choices, but that there was a clear will to push forward with such projects.
"The enthusiasm of everyone in the room, including JLR, to establish Coventry and the West Midlands as a test bed and place of innovation in battery storage is very evident and there's huge commitment to that," he told Reuters.
(Editing by Adrian Croft)