For want of a raw-materials fix, the electric-car revolution could fizzle before it gets started. While e-carmakers pride themselves on their futuristic flair, their plans hinge on a decidedly drab-looking piece of gear: the battery.
Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, the parent of Mercedes-Benz, have all unveiled ambitious plans to offer dozens of electric-car lines by 2025. By then, VW hopes it can sell two to three million e-cars, while BMW wants to have 25 models rolling off its assembly lines. Daimler plans to sell at least 100,000 electric Mercedes and Smart vehicles by 2020. Tesla, Silicon Valley’s cars-to-rockets pioneer, aims to produce half a million e-cars as of next year.
Asian battery makers such as Samsung, Panasonic, LG Chem and BYD are building new factories to handle any e-car boom. There is a big bottleneck, however: the supply of precious metals to produce the batteries. Mining companies that deliver the all-important lithium and cobalt are not expected to keep pace with growing demand. These two commodities are vital for the lithium-ion batteries employed in mobile phones and cars.