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Why The Future Of EVs Could Be In Trouble

Industry News / 8 Comments

The solution is obvious, but hard to implement in time.

While internal combustion engines require the use of gasoline and diesel to function, electric vehicles require a must-have earth-sourced element of their own: cobalt. According to Automotive News, there could soon be a serious shortage of the stuff. In case you weren't aware, cobalt is a rare earth metal required for electric vehicles' batteries. Over the past two years, cobalt prices have more than tripled, and automakers and suppliers are already growing concerned.

Moreover, these shortages could happen earlier than predicted, in as little as five to seven years. What's causing the problem? "The long lead time to bring on new mines and the concentration of cobalt reserves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) analysts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for better or worse, contains some two-thirds of the world's mined cobalt supply, and it's not exactly the most stable country. Forced child labor and perilous working conditions are the norm there, despite international efforts. Many automakers, in fact, have pledged to only source cobalt from ethical mines, but good luck with that.

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Considering the expected rapid increase in demand for cobalt due to global automakers, including BMW, Ford and Volkswagen, preparing to launch new EVs in the very near future, this potential production shortage couldn't come at a worse time. Not only will there be a lack of cobalt, but its price will continue to swell. As always, the added costs would be passed down to customers (assuming there are any). At the end of last year, about 3 million EVs were sold globally, compared to 79 million cars in general sold worldwide. Point being is that, at the moment, EV sales are relatively small potatoes. But this is expected to change given gasoline prices are beginning to increase once again and diesel is on its way out.

By the mid-2020s and by 2040, BNEF predicts, EVs "will account for a third of the global fleet." China is currently the top EV market and sales there are rising faster than expected. "If capacity does not grow as planned, cobalt prices could continue to spike and there could be a major cobalt shortage," said analysts. "This would have serious implications on the electric vehicle market."