You have to say one of the few visible results of the stimulus packages announced in the US and Europe has been the scurry of activity in the electric and hybrid car market. In the US, the $25b earmarked for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVMP) for battery development has prompted a number of planned projects to be moved into high gear. General Electric, ConocoPhillips, and Detroit Edison are said to be behind $69m raised by A123 Systems, a Massachusetts-based lithium-ion battery maker who has signed to supply Chrysler with batteries, while Johnson Controls and Saft of France are building a battery production facility in Michigan supported by $220m of state aid in one form or another.
If these and several other projects reach production volumes over the next 12-24 months you have to wonder where all the batteries are going to go because Toyota’s Hybrid Prius and the soon to be launched GM Volt have existing supply agreements. One answer is new electric and hybrid vehicles in the pipeline, like Detroit Electric’s joint venture with Malaysia’s Proton to make two all electric model cars on Proton’s existing platforms in their existing production lines in Malaysia. The attraction for Detroit Electric to team up with Proton is it keeps the infrastructure costs down to a small fraction of what they would otherwise be and provides the start up with an established distribution network around the world. The two models will sell in the US at $23,000 – $25,000 for the smaller model with a driving range of 110 miles per charge and $29,000 – $33,000 for the larger model with a driving range of 200 miles per electric charge. Volumes are projected at 40,000 next year and 270,000 globally by 2012. To what extent they will source US batteries remains to be seen though, based in Malaysia, Asian battery suppliers may be better able to compete on price and delivery.
Established (if somewhat financially struggling) Tesla Motors is working on an all electric sedan to add to it’s scintillating aluminum chassis roadster capable of 244 miles on a charge and 0-60 in just 3.9 seconds. At $60,000, Tesla hopes they will sell more of the sedan than they have of the roadster, and more profitably. It is said the roadster, retailing at about $92k is costing $140k to make. The key for Tesla, GM and most car makers will be to bring down the cost of the batteries by mass production, only then will electric cars become viable. Hence the interest in battery R&D and new production ventures. With large dollops of private money going into this field along with the ATVMP funding progress in bringing down costs and pushing up efficiencies, things will move significantly faster over the next few years than the last few.
Now what were we saying about lithium demand?…..