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VW tries to stay neutral in battery maker battle

Dec 05,2019
Volkswagen Group of America has turned down LG Chem’s request that it submit documents to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) connected to the Korean company’s legal battle against SK Innovation.

The U.S. arm of Volkswagen filed a petition last month urging the ITC to reject battery maker LG Chem’s motion seeking access to additional documents from the carmaker’s German headquarters.

Since May, the ITC has been investigating LG’s complaint that SK stole its trade secrets by hiring former employees and used that knowledge to win electric vehicle (EV) battery deals. The two companies have been fighting an all-out war in courts on both sides of the Pacific over intellectual property related to EV batteries.

Volkswagen America argued it has already responded to LG’s request with a 1,400-page document submitted in mid-September. The company had “expended time and resources in a good-faith effort” despite being a “non-party” in the fight between two local carmakers.

“It is unreasonable and unduly burdensome to make non-party [Volkswagen] conduct a second collection, review it and produce more highly sensitive materials based on requests that have not been properly raised,” Volkswagen wrote.

The company also argued that LG was circumventing a Hague Convention by requesting documents from the German headquarters through the U.S. office. The local battery maker was also vague in establishing why it needed broader access to documents on the matter, Volkswagen said.

The U.S. office also emphasized that it does not have control over the German headquarters’ documents and personnel, with the two being different corporations.

“LG Chem’s apparent attempt to revise and broaden its actual requests for production to include documents that it never requested is improper and should be rejected,” it wrote.

Whether the German carmaker can reject LG’s request for additional documents is down to the ITC.

Volkswagen’s involvement in the LG-SK feud goes back to last year. In Nov. 2018, it named SK Innovation its strategic battery cell manufacturer for EVs produced in North America and parts of Europe. After the announcement, SK constructed a massive EV battery plant in Georgia, which will have a 9.8-gigawatt-hour capacity annually when completed.

SK’s Volkswagen deal was mentioned in LG’s petition to the U.S. ITC in April, saying the “wrongful” win would constrain LG’s future business opportunities with the German carmaker. LG argues that without its “stolen” secrets and technology, SK would never have landed the deal.

On Wednesday, LG denied local reports that suggested Volkswagen’s opposition to submit a second round of documents implies a fracture in the relations between the leading battery maker and one of the world’s biggest EV battery clients. LG is also a Volkswagen supplier.

“We have a very long relationship - it’s not a conflict but a procedure that frequently occurs during lawsuits,” said an LG Chem spokesman. “Our sales team confirmed that there was zero impact relationship-wise.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]