A nascent electric vehicle manufacturing hub is taking shape along Interstate 55, where Rivian will start making trucksnext month in Normal. Lion Electric said May 7 it will build buses and trucks in Joliet starting next year. Just a littlefarther up Interstate 55 in Lemont, Argonne National Laboratory is conducting advanced battery research.
With two assembly plants and a leading research facility, Illinois has positioned itself to become a center of thetechnology transforming the automotive industry. As automakers move to replace internal combustion engines withelectric powertrains over the next decade or two, states are racing to stake their claims to electric vehiclemanufacturing and the jobs it will create.
So far, established automakers are primarily concentrating production in Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana and SouthCarolina. Newcomers such as Tesla and Lucid have chosen Nevada, Texas and Arizona.
Illinois beat out Texas and Michigan for the Lion plant, a sign of the state’s competitiveness in the industry. If it can lurea ock of electric vehicle parts suppliers, Illinois will hang on to its role as one of about a dozen states that account formost U.S. auto production, preserving a key source of high-paying manufacturing employment as well as advancedtechnical jobs.”Illinois has both a strong manufacturing history and increasingly strong digital and articial-intelligence capabilities,which will be relevant. Argonne is a central battery-tech center,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the BrookingsInstitution’s Metropolitan Policy Program whose work has focused on the nation’s technology clusters. “Clearly thereare possibilities for Illinois here.”
The state ranks ninth in U.S. auto production, just behind South Carolina and ahead of Texas, according to the Centerfor Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Automakers, including Ford in Chicago and Stellantis in Belvidere, employ about 36,000 in Illinois. An additional 36,000 work at auto parts makers in the state, according to the IllinoisManufacturing Association.
Illinois also is home to heavy-equipment makers Caterpillar and Deere. Both are moving toward electric-poweredvehicles, as is Illinois-based truck and bus maker Navistar, which has agreed to be acquired by Volkswagen. Navistarwon’t be making electric vehicles in Illinois, but its engineering design teams are based in Lisle. Foxconn has said it willdecide this year whether to make electric vehicles at a plant just over the Illinois border in Racine, Wic., a possibilityhighlighted by the Taiwanese tech manufacturing giant’s May 13 announcement of a partnership with EV startup Fisker.
Lion Electric CEO Marc Bédard says the Montreal-based company chose Illinois in part because of the state’s locationand talent base, even though Illinois’ $7.9 million incentive package wasn’t the highest.”There is a very rich culture of manufacturing in Illinois,” Bédard says. “People know how to manufacture things. Havinglabor that has a lot of knowledge in manufacturing trucks and buses, that was one of the boxes on our list that Illinoischecked.”
Illinois already has more than 5,000 workers in the electric transportation industry—about 3,500 of them in the Chicagoarea, according to a study last month commissioned by the trade group Advanced Energy Economy. The study, whichwas completed before the Lion announcement, predicts the work force will nearly double by 2024 to 9,500 workers.
“There is a lot of precision manufacturing already in Illinois that sets the state up to get more than its fair share,” saysPhil Jordan, a vice president at BW Research Partnership and lead author of the report. The study identied more than500 Illinois companies connected to electric vehicles, including established suppliers such as NTN Bearing, which hasoces and plants in Mount Prospect, Schiller Park, Elgin and Macomb.
Yet the state’s electric-vehicle hopes depend largely on the success of startups Lion and Irvine, Calif.-based Rivian,which are likely to face competition from larger manufacturers. Bolstering the prospects of both companies are dealsto build vehicles for Amazon.
“They’re not all going to make it,” says Kristin Dziczek, head of research at the Center for Automotive Research. “A lotdepends on how well the startups manage their ramp-up to full-scale operation.”
Lion plans to hire about 800 workers for the Joliet plant, which will begin production late next year, but it also plans tohire engineers here. Headcount could reach 1,400 in five or six years, Bédard says. Rivian has more than 1,000 workersin Normal and expects headcount there to top 2,500 by year-end.
Another key to Illinois’ prospects in electric vehicle manufacturing will be attracting a network of parts suppliers for theassembly plants. Suppliers often cluster around auto factories, bringing more jobs. However, electric vehicle productionrequires far fewer parts and an estimated 30 percent less labor than traditional vehicle manufacturing. That poses athreat to Illinois’ existing automotive employment base and makes success in electric vehicles even more important tothe state’s economic future.
“I think there are going to be a lot of good suppliers in Illinois that probably are not in Illinois right now but will decide togo to Illinois in the next couple of years,” Bédard says.
At the heart of electric vehicles are advanced batteries powerful enough to propel them for hundreds of miles withoutrecharging. So far, Illinois doesn’t have a large battery factory. AllCell Technologies, a battery company in Broadviewthat spun out of the Illinois Institute of Technology, employs about 50 people, according to the Advanced EnergyEconomy report.
Argonne employs about 150 people working on energy technology. Three battery-related startups have spun out ofArgonne, but none is based here.
“We have the pieces of the puzzle that should lead to an ecosystem developing,” says Venkat Srinivasan, deputydirector of Argonne’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. “The money is here and the universities are here. Nowwe’re seeing the third leg of the stool—companies. If we can nurture this, it spurs itself. But it’s going to take some careand doing before it gets there.”
Bédard says Argonne was a selling point for Lion, which “will probably do some batteries in Illinois at some point.”
In the meantime, Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he’s “been in direct conversations with battery manufacturers and theirsuppliers” about setting up shop in Illinois.
Pritzker, who made clean energy a focus of his economic-development plan, says the state is dedicating $90 millionfrom its proceeds from a pollution settlement with Volkswagen and $70 million in capital-improvement funds towardthe electric-vehicle industry.
“We think there are thousands of jobs we can attract,” Pritzker says. “We have a long way to go, but we’re getting theattention of electric-vehicle manufacturers. We have momentum.”
Read the article here: What if Illinois became a hub of electric vehicle manufacturing?