Scarmagno The old factory halls have started to rust, windows have been smashed, scaffolding supports the dilapidated concrete ceiling. Everything looks a bit like “The Walking Dead” here. Instead of zombies, a wiry man in a suit walks through the weathered backdrop, blue slippers on his feet, a thick buckle on his belt: Lars Carlstrom wants to revive this area in northern Turin, which had been fallow for 30 years.
The Swede is planning the largest battery factory in Italy on the industrial ruins of the computer manufacturer Olivetti. A gigafactory that is to be 319,000 square meters – and because of its proximity to southern Germany, could also supply German car manufacturers.
“It would be the tenth largest human footprint, about the size of the VW plant in Wolfsburg,” says Carlstrom as he trudges across the site. Up to 3000 new jobs are to be created at Italvolt alone, plus up to 10,000 at the suppliers, Carlstrom calculates. He wants to locate the entire value chain in Scarmagno, including recycling. Initially, batteries based on the Asian model are to be manufactured here, but in the long term he wants to develop his own technology. “At some point I want to be independent from Asia,” emphasizes the man in his mid-fifties. 45 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual output should initially be generated, batteries for 550,000 cars per year. Later expansion to up to 70 GWh is planned.
The energy for this should come from solar panels on the roofs, from solar parks. A geothermal power plant is also planned. Self-driving buses are supposed to drive the staff on the site, which is surrounded by wooded hills and foothills of the Alps. A school is to be built, plus a battery university to train employees. Parts of the site will become a public park. “We’re building a completely new city,” says Carlstrom.
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The schedule is tight, asbestos is to be removed as early as spring, the demolition of parts of the building will begin, and the first new buildings are to be built in 2022. Carlstrom plans to manufacture the first lithium-ion batteries here in 2024. The father of three recently signed the purchase agreement for the property. So far he has been the only donor, has invested five million euros in his battery room, employs six people, and commutes constantly between Milan and Turin.
Carlstrom previously ran the Britishvolt company
The start-up capital came from the sale of his Britishvolt shares – he had previously run the company that plans to produce the first batteries in the north-east of England at the end of 2023. Because of “strategic disputes” they split up in December 2020, says Carlstrom. It was also about incorrect information in his tax return in the 1990s in Sweden. Carlstrom takes the subject off badly. “That was 26 years ago,” he says. At that time he had not correctly taxed “around 10,000 euros”.
Still, the case haunts him. Just like the fact that some Swedish companies, for which he previously worked in a responsible position, have slipped into bankruptcy. But Carlstrom is only looking ahead. Above all, he wants to show the old Britishvolt colleagues that he can do it without them. In Italy.
His dream is slowly becoming a reality: after months of negotiations, Carlstrom can finally announce the first important partner: According to information from the Handelsblatt, the Swedish-Swiss technology group ABB will enter into a technology partnership with Italvolt. ABB is to contribute its expertise in automation processes and help with robot solutions for the factory. “Italvolt’s plans for mass production are crucial for electromobility, more sustainability and the re-industrialization of the region,” explains Mauro Martis, who is responsible for southern Europe at ABB. Together they want to “explore technologies and synergies with Italvolt” and provide know-how for “this ambitious project”.
For Carlstrom, who studied economics in Sweden and has run various companies in the automotive and real estate sectors, this is just the beginning. He urgently needs donors: the Swede puts the total investment costs at 3.5 to four billion euros. He is also hoping for money from the EU reconstruction fund. Around a third of the financing is to come from the public sector, another third from investors, and the rest from bank financing.
Carlstrom’s euphoria is not slowed by the fact that his dream partner Stellantis, the group that is just 30 minutes away by car and which has just merged from Fiat-Chrysler and Peugeot, has recently announced the construction of a gigafactory in southern Italy: “The battery requirement will be much higher than the supply in the years to come. ”He is also in“ ongoing talks ”with companies such as Stellantis and CNH. He also exchanges ideas with “a number of car manufacturers in Germany and France”. You are in the heart of Europe, the way to VW, Daimler or BMW across the Alps is not far.
A factory from the designers of the Ferrari bodies
An Italian icon is responsible for the factory design, the designs are reminiscent of architectural temples from Silicon Valley: Studio Pininfarina otherwise designs car bodies for Ferrari or Maserati, but has also created the control tower at the new Istanbul airport. Senior Vice President Giovanni de Niederhäusern sees a “perfect connection” between Italvolt and Scarmagno. Everything fits together here: the connection to the motorway, the proximity to Turin, enough space. “Of course it would have been easier to do something on the green field. But Lars wants to emphasize the sustainability of the project as early as the construction stage. “
Patrizia Paglia is also convinced of Italvolt. Ten kilometers west of Scarmagno, her family company produces plastic parts for BMW and Stellantis. “I see a great need for electric cars here,” says Paglia, who is also the head of the regional industry association. She knows 80 companies that are interested in Italvolt – as potential suppliers. “Lars Carlstrom talked to everyone in charge, with mayors, associations, the Chamber of Commerce,” says Paglia. “The project got off to a good start.”
The question remains why, of all people, a Swede has to show the Italians how to build a Gigafactory. Scarmagno’s mayor Adriano Grassino doesn’t have to think twice: “He just looks ahead, for a longer period of time than we do.” The 70-year-old comes from the town and experienced the golden eighties, when Scarmagno was Italy’s Silicon Valley and innovative companies established themselves. In 1992, Olivetti shut down the site – after that nothing came except a decline.
“Today there are more old people than young people here, and hardly any job prospects for the 850 residents,” says Grassino. His gaze wanders from the town hall balcony over the fallow Olivetti site, the narrow yellow water tower towers over the trees. “We put all our hopes in Italvolt as a place,” says Grassino. He’s only worried about the schedule: “It’s all very ambitious.” He is elected by 2023. He hopes to see the start of construction during his term in office.
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