Scarce Metals, Batteries, and Factories Needed for EVs Are Very Hard to Quickly Ramp-Up

(p. B1) The Biden administration’s plan to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles — reaching a two-thirds share of new cars in less than a decade — pushes automakers further in a direction they have already been going. But meeting the new timetable will be a challenge.

. . .

But the industry and its customers have a long way to go. While sales of electric vehicles are (p. B3) rising, they accounted for only 5.8 percent of the 13.8 million new cars and trucks sold in the United States last year.

. . .

The owner of a 2018 Ford F-150 pickup truck, he often has to haul around a trailer full of equipment for his job, and he sometimes tows a camper for vacations — driving patterns that are not very suitable for E.V.s. It’s also not unusual for him to have to drive 300 miles on a work trip, and farther when he visits relatives in Michigan.

“I’m a person who likes to go and not have a lot of stops,” he said. “If I’m working, I can’t really wait an hour or more to recharge an E.V.”

On top of that, he lives in an apartment, so he would have no way to charge an E.V. at home.

Whether Americans are willing to accept changes to their work and lifestyle to drive electric vehicles is only one of several hurdles and uncertainties. The biggest is perhaps lithium. The soft, silver-white metal is the key element in E.V. batteries, and the world produces only a small fraction of the amount that will be needed for a majority of car buyers to go electric in the United States, Europe and China, markets where more than 50 million cars were sold last year.

“Can we really produce enough lithium for that?” asked Mike Ramsey, a Gartner analyst who follows the electric car business. “We’re not even at 10 percent now, and it’s difficult for companies to get the lithium they need.”

While mining companies are racing to expand lithium production, the pace at which they can is unclear. In North Carolina, for example, Albemarle is trying to reopen a pit mine along Interstate 85 near Kings Mountain, 32 miles west of Charlotte.

The mine was in operation from the 1940s to the 1980s, and to reopen it the company must work out plans for protecting surrounding groundwater, determining if the mine’s steep walls are suitable for new operations and dealing with any contaminants that may be found in the pit lake at the mine’s bottom.

Extracting lithium from the hard ore at the site involves a more difficult and costly process than other sources, and residents in the area have begun working to block the resumption of mining operations.

The supply and production of other metals — including nickel, rare-earth metals, manganese and cobalt — must also increase to support a tenfold rise in E.V. sales.

On another front, the plants and assembly lines needed to produce millions of E.V.s every year don’t exist yet. While G.M., Ford and other manufacturers have plants under construction, they will have to produce twice or three times as many battery plants to hit their sales targets and those the Biden administration is setting.

Building and ramping up dozens of new plants will take years, and that process can be fraught.

For the full story, see:

Neal E. Boudette. “A Test for Automakers: Meeting Biden’s Deadline.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 11, 2023): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Automakers Face Test in Reaching U.S. Target for Electric Vehicles.”)


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