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Inside Foxconn's big EV ambitions in India

The Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant is soon expected to make an entry into electric vehicles manufacturing in India

Naini Thaker
Published: Jun 19, 2023 02:52:13 PM IST
Updated: Jun 19, 2023 03:34:02 PM IST

Inside Foxconn's big EV ambitions in IndiaEmployees work on an assembly line in the mobile phone plant of Rising Stars Mobile India Pvt., a unit of Foxconn Technology Co. in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India; Image: Karen Dias/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Foxconn's Chairman Young Liu finds a massive opportunity in the electric vehicles (EV) space. Based on market estimates, by 2025, the global EV market will reach $600 billion. Foxconn hopes to reach at least five percent of this market, to become a significant player in the EV industry.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Liu stated: “This is [electric vehicles] much more complicated than the iPhones. A typical EV will have about 10,000 parts, compared to phones that are about 600 parts. That’s roughly 20x more components.” Though there is enough competition when it comes to branded EVs, such as Tesla, there are no contract manufacturers in the EV space. “We think it is very promising for us with that kind of business model to get into this EV business,” he added.

So far, China has been the company’s traditional manufacturing base, but in the recent past the company has been diversifying, not only in terms of products, but also geographically. “Regional manufacturing for EVs is quite natural, since EVs are very bulky. That’s why we had a factory in Ohio, we’re going to have one in Thailand and soon we’ll have one in India,” Liu said. During Liu’s first visit to India last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the Taiwanese company’s “push for EV manufacturing is in line with our commitment of Net Zero Emission”.

Two-wheeler electric vehicles remain a focus for the company, and they continue to build on production and R&D capacity. It hopes to use the manufacturing experience of two-wheeler electric vehicles to accumulate R&D for electric four-wheelers. Currently, they have an established production in Taichung, Taiwan. “India will also assist with establishment of a production line this year to provide two-wheeled electric vehicle manufacturing services,” stated the company’s annual report. Foxconn might look for a partner to tie-up with, as they did with semiconductors. As for the four-wheel electric market, Foxconn hopes to build artificial intelligence technology and the manufacturing advantage of high in-house production efficiencies, added the report.

Going big with semiconductors

In February 2022, Vedanta and Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) had announced a joint venture to manufacture semiconductors in India—Vedanta Foxconn Semiconductors Limited (VFSL). The company is expected to set up a fab foundry to manufacture 28 nanometre (nm) and 40 nm wafers (slices of semiconductor material used to make integrated circuits). David Reed, who is an industry veteran, has been appointed as the CEO of VFSL.

In a first-of-its-kind partnership in India, Vedanta holds a 63 percent stake in the semiconductor project, while Foxconn holds the remaining. “There cannot be two drivers on a car,” Vedanta’s Anil Agarwal told Forbes India last month, “Young Liu, (Foxconn’s chairman) suggested that, because you are the son of the soil, you drive the car, and we'll sit by the side. They will take full responsibility on the technology side.” This means, Foxconn will take care of operations and sales, in addition to the technology side. VFSL’s integrated semiconductor fab foundry will have the capacity to manufacture 40,000 wafers per month to cater to mobiles, consumer electronics, automotive, and network equipment.

Also read: Inside Vedanta's gigantic semiconductor ambitions

Three weeks back, a Bloomberg report suggested that the government is expected to withhold crucial funding for the project. However, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar in an interview with CNBC-TV18 clarified, “There is no communication from the government that we are not pursuing the Vedanta 28-nanometer fab proposal. Currently, they are engaged in a negotiation to locate and sign up on a 28-nanometer manufacturing technology… it is a work in progress.” CEO Reed in recent interviews stated that the setting up of the plant is progressing as per schedule, and that Foxconn has already recruited 200-400 engineers for the project.

Apple & smartphone manufacturing

Foxconn is best known for manufacturing Apple’s iPhones, and media reports suggest that they make around 60 percent of all its components, from camera modules to the connectors.

India is a fast-growing region, but local smartphone adoption is still low. “As local telecom companies continue to increase network coverage outside of Tier I and Tier II cities, the region will attract major smartphone manufacturers to actively invest. It is one of the main driving forces provide growth for global smartphone shipments in the future,” the annual report stated.

The Taiwanese company is expected to set up an electronics manufacturing and assembly unit on the outskirts of Bengaluru, which will manufacture the iPhones. The 300-acre plot near the Bengaluru International airport will be Foxconn’s largest such unit in India. This facility is expected to generate close to 10,000 jobs. Reports also suggest that an investment of close to $1 billion has been made for the Bengaluru factory.

Also read: Made in China to Make in India: Apple's new big bet

A news report from March 2023 also reckons, that Foxconn has won an order to make AirPods for Apple and plans to build a factory in India. So far, AirPods are being manufactured by a range of Chinese suppliers. Reportedly, Foxconn is likely to invest more than $200 million in the new AirPod plant in Telengana.

Currently, Foxconn has two facilities in India—one at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu under Hon Hai, where it makes iPhones, and the other operated by Bharat FIH (previously, Rising Star) in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, which acts as a contract manufacturer for brands such as Xiaomi.

According to IDC's analysis, the global smartphone shipment in 2023 will be revised down to 1.19 billion units, a year-on-year decrease of about 1.1 percent. The overall market is showing signs of stabilising, and it will be about flat this year. This could have triggered the diversification plans into three growing industries: Electric vehicles, digital health, and robotics.

In the coming year, Foxconn will deepen its R&D, design and manufacturing for EVs and components, and continue developing new concept cars and promote the progress of mass production vehicles. With the US-China tensions running high, India is likely to find itself high up in Foxconn’s growth and diversification plan.

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