In the race for electric cars, a road full of traps


AutomotiveIn the race for electric cars, a road full of traps

To achieve their ambitious goals of ending combustion engines, major automakers will need to overcome many hurdles.

An electric car being charged.


Driven by the authorities or by their own commitments, major car manufacturers have embarked on a sea change towards the end of combustion engines and the advent of electric cars. But to achieve their ambitious goals, they will have to overcome many obstacles. there will be enough lithium and other essential raw materials for the manufacture of electric batteries? Enough charging stations? How to ensure that cars don’t cost too much for the most modest purses? After the success of Tesla, built exclusively with electric vehicles, most of the big groups in the sector plan to invest tens of billions of dollars in the next few years to transform.

Stellantis (PSA-Fiat-Chrysler) wants to sell 100% of electric vehicles in Europe by 2030. Toyota plans to launch 30 models in this segment by the same date. General Motors intends to stop producing cars with combustion engines in 2035. They are encouraged in this sense by the authorities. Most recent, California on Thursday banned the sale of traditional new cars from 2035.

guaranteed demand

The European Union has also started a ban on the sale of new gasoline, diesel or hybrid cars until 2035., while China wants at least half of new vehicles by that date to be electric, hybrid or hydrogen. Automakers are warned: “It’s up to them to prepare their inventories,” notes Jessica Caldwell of specialist firm Edmunds. “Until recently, it was said that the biggest obstacles to the adoption of electric vehicles would be the acceptance by motorists and the price”, underlines the expert. But driven by consumers increasingly sensitive to the impacts of climate change, the demand exists.

In the United States, for example, General Motors claims to have more than 150,000 pre-orders for the electric version of its Silverado pickup, which won’t be available until 2023. It takes several months for a Tesla, the industry’s top brand. . “The question now seems more about whether they can get the materials they need,” notes Ms. Caldwell.

“Drastic” Changes

“Governments can decide as much as they want about subsidies or new regulations for electric vehicles, we are currently facing a lack of palladium, nickel, lithium”, abounds Karl Brauer, from the specialist website iseecars. Admittedly, the problem is largely linked to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but “nobody would have predicted the escalation in prices or the difficulty in obtaining these materials a year ago,” he recalls.

Manufacturers are struggling to limit risk. They build their own battery factories, create joint ventures with specialist manufacturers or form partnerships with mining companies. German groups Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz even signed agreements directly with the Canadian government on Monday to consolidate their supply of rare metals.

But the market for oil remains global, Brauer recalls: as long as supply is limited, “there will always be someone to pay a little more”.

conditional help

Local regulations can also complicate the task, as in the United States, where a recent law conditions the $7,500 aid for the purchase of an electric car on certain elements, such as final assembly in North America. The Automotive Innovation Alliance, an industry lobby in the United States, has calculated that about 70% of the 72 electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen models currently on the market could not, as they are, qualify for such a concession. For Garrett Nelson, an analyst at CFRA, this new law will clearly favor Tesla, GM and Ford in the United States, to the detriment of European and Asian manufacturers.

Following California’s announcement, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation also estimated in a press release that it would be “extremely complicated” to achieve the state’s goals due to “external factors”: inflation, electricity or hydrogen charging stations, supply chains, labor, availability and price of critical materials, and the continuing shortage of semiconductors. “These are complex, interrelated, global issues that go far beyond the control (of California authorities) or the auto industry,” says the Alliance.


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