Chattanooga Times Free Press

White House hears dispute with VW battery supplier

- BY ANDY PETERS

Two Korean companies in a trade secrets dispute that threatens a massive factory being built in Georgia argued their positions to the White House last week.

SK Innovation told officials President Joe Biden should overturn a recent ruling that could halt its planned production of batteries for electric vehicles at its $2.6 billion plant being built near Commerce, according to a company presentati­on.

SK also told White House officials that it will roughly double its investment in Georgia and the number of jobs it will create — if the project is allowed to continue.

In a separate meeting last week with the Biden administra­tion, rival LG Energy Solution said the ruling should stand, according to a person familiar with the situation who declined to provide additional details.

The United States Internatio­nal Trade Commission ruled on Feb. 10 that SK stole battery trade secrets from LG Energy Solution. The ITC said SK could make batteries for Ford for four years and Volkswagen for two years. After that it banned SK from using components needed for battery constructi­on for 10 years.

Volkswagen Group of America said in a statement last month that it has

become “an unintended victim” in the trade dispute between SK Innovation and that company’s rival, LG Chem. Volkswagen said it will still begin making its battery-powered SUV in Chattanoog­a by next year, but VW also has appealed to the White House to be able to buy SK batteries for the next four years, rather than just the two years allowed for in the ITC ruling.

Biden has until next month to overturn the ruling, alter it or let it stand. SK could appeal any decision to a federal court. LG has also indicated it would consider a financial settlement that would allow SK to continue to operate the plant.

In its presentati­on last week to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representa­tive, an executive agency, SK argued that if the ruling stands, it would threaten some of Biden’s top priorities, such as fighting climate change through the increased usage of zero-emissions vehicles.

SK also said it plans to expand the size of its Georgia investment to $5 billion from $2.6 billion, and create 6,000 jobs, up from an earlier estimate of 2,600. The additional jobs and larger investment had not been previously disclosed.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has also called for Biden to overturn the ruling, saying last month that the president and his administra­tion “have the opportunit­y to support thousands of hardworkin­g Georgians.”

An SK spokeswoma­n declined to describe how the Biden administra­tion officials responded to its presentati­on.

An LG spokesman and Biden spokesman Ike Hajinazari­an declined to comment.

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