Automakers continue to express concerns over the supply of raw materials for electric-car batteries.
A Bloomberg report suggests that might not be the reality at all. Enough new lithium supplies are coming online that mining companies are concerned about a price collapse. While automakers are preparing a raft of new electric models, they can't arrive quickly enough for new mining interests.
The report notes that lithium supplies from Australia are forecast to rise 23 percent over the next two years, as companies have opened six new lithium mines since 2017 to meet expected growing demand for electric cars in China, Europe, and the U.S.
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By 2030, suppliers are expecting a tenfold increase in demand for lithium for batteries. None of those cars are here yet, though. as new lithium supplies have already begun coming online. That has triggered a 30-percent slide in prices for lithium-oxide, after they almost tripled between mid-2015 and 2018, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
South American lithium prices could drop from $10,000 per ton to between $7,000 and $8,100, the report notes. This could lead to cheaper batteries in the short run, though automakers such as Tesla and Volkswagen remain concerned about longer-term supplies.
However, growth in electric-car sales has plunged in China after the country cut incentives for purchasing EVs and instituted new measures to restrict the number of companies building them. The market for EVs in China grew by 90 percent in the first quarter of 2019, versus the same quarter in 2018. But growth has since slowed to about half that rate.
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In the U.S., electric car sales more than doubled in 2018, largely following the introduction of the Tesla Model 3. Sales of other electric cars have remained slow, while some popular models such as the Chevrolet Bolt EV have tailed off.
A new wave of electric cars is starting to arrive, including the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi E-tron quattro, but so far they're expensive and not big sellers. And new EVs from Hyundai and Kia, including the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV and Soul EV have arrived only in small numbers.
Volkswagen is planning up to build 22 million new electric cars in 70 new electric models by the end of the next decade. But those models aren't here yet. The first, the VW ID 3 hatchback, has now been delayed until early 2020. BMW plans 13 new electric cars by 2023 as well as 12 new plug-in hybrids. Similarly Daimler has plans for 10 new electric cars by 2022.
While automakers have stated concerned about supplies of raw materials for batteries, and the lithium industry is worried about a short-term oversupply, other battery materials such as ethically-sourced cobalt or magnesium, nickel or other materials could be contributing to supply concerns.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated a timeline for lithium-oxide prices. Prices nearly tripled between mid-2015 and 2018.