Good morning! It’s Wednesday, November 22, 2023, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.
The Ford Explorer Goes All-Electric, But Not For America
1st Gear: Ford Cuts Battery Plant Output By 43 Percent
Electric vehicle adoption in the U.S. is on the rocks right now. Sure, we’re on track to hit 1 million EVs sold this year for the first time, but automakers across the country are tempering expectations about future demand for battery-powered models. As such, Ford previously announced it was cutting a shift at the factory that assembles its F-150 Lightning electric truck and now the Blue Oval is reducing capacity at its new EV battery plant.
Ford’s new $3.5 billion battery plant is currently being planned for Michigan, reports CNBC News. However, the project has had its output slashed by 43 percent as Ford struggles with EV adoption across the U.S. As CNBC reports:
Ford said Tuesday it is cutting production capacity by roughly 43% to 20 gigawatt hours per year and reducing expected employment from 2,500 jobs to 1,700 jobs. The company declined to disclose how much less it would invest in the plant. Based on the reduced capacity, it would still be about a $2 billion investment.
The decision adds to a recent retreat from EVs by automakers globally. Demand for the vehicles is lower than expected due to higher costs and challenges with supply chains and battery technologies, among other issues.
Despite cutting the size of the plant, Ford says it’s still on track to open in 2026. It will be impressive if the site does still open on schedule, as construction of the facility in Michigan was also put on hold while Ford faced off with the United Auto Workers union when it went on strike earlier this year.
The cut back at the Michigan battery plant is the latest in a wave of cuts and delays to Ford’s planned $12 billion investment in future EV projects. The slash in funding for EVs was announced last month when the automaker postponed construction of another EV battery plant in Kentucky.
2nd Gear: Lithium Mines Are Struggling Over Low Prices
Even if Ford was still gunning ahead and building its new battery plant at full capacity, it sounds like we may be on the edge of an EV bottleneck. Now, it turns out that mining companies are reluctant to expand their operations that dig up essential EV ingredients, such as lithium.
The slowdown in investment in lithium mining projects across the U.S. comes as the cost of the material reaches record lows, according to the Wall Street Journal. A crash in prices for lithium, cobalt and other metals essential in EV production is causing companies to suspend and delay projects or expansions. As the WSJ reports:
“This situation is a bit dangerous because the mines aren’t going to get built,” said Anthony Milewski, chief executive of nickel producer Nickel 28, who is a longtime investor in battery metals. “We should be building those mines now and we’re not.”
Battery-grade lithium prices are down more than 60% this year, while nickel, graphite and cobalt have lost about 30%, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. A big factor behind the declines: a weaker-than-expected economic recovery after Covid-19 lockdowns in China, the world’s largest consumer of metals.
The dramatic drop in prices for things like lithium and cobalt came as a result of struggling demand for EVs in countries like America. However, the slowdown at mines across America today is unlikely to impact supply and demand for EVs now. Instead, because it can take years for new and expanded mines to come online, the WSJ reports that the delays will likely hit EV inventory “in coming years and leave carmakers scrambling for scarce supplies.”
Right now, the WSJ reports that there isn’t too much cause for concern as “lithium supply and demand are relatively balanced.” However, from 2030 things will change and demand for the essential battery ingredient is expected to reach 3.1 million metric tons and “outpace supply by nearly 400,000 tons.”
3rd Gear: Akio Toyoda Steps Down
After leaving his post as Toyota CEO earlier this year, Akio Toyoda has stepped down from his industry post as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. The ex-Toyota CEO will be succeeded in the role by Masanori Katayama, chairman of Isuzu Motors.
Toyoda held the chairman position for three terms at Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, reports Automotive News. After first taking on the role in 2012, Toyoda had two further two-year terms in 2018 and 2022. Automotive News reports:
“The automotive industry is a global industry, and all companies have gone global,” Toyoda said at a Wednesday news conference to announce JAMA’s leadership change.
“The role of the Japanese auto industry in the world has changed day by day,” he said. “But the automotive industry will have to continue to be an essential industry for this country.”
With Toyoda out of the picture, Katayama tenure will mark the first time that the industry body has been led by the boss of a truck maker. It’s hoped that his appointment will give the burgeoning truck segment more input in Japan’s auto industry.
“The automotive industry will continue to be the most important pillar of the Japanese economy,” Katayama said, according to Automotive News. “But there still remain many challenges.”
4th Gear: EV Sales Are Doing OK… In Europe
While electric cars are on rocky ground here in America, they do seem to be having more of a moment across the pond in Europe. According to the latest car sales figures for the bloc, electric models are on a rapid rise.
Sales of EVs were up 36.3 percent in October versus the same period last year, reports Reuters. On top of that, sales of full hybrid models were up nearly 39 percent following a 15th consecutive month of growth. Reuters reports:
The [European Automobile Manufacturers Association] said fully electric cars made up 14.2% of sales in October, overtaking sales of diesel cars for the third time.
As recently as 2015, diesel models accounted for more than 50% of cars sold in the EU, but they accounted for just 12% of sales in October.
For the ten months through October, sales of fully electric cars were up 53.1%.
While sales of electrified models edge ever closer to 50 percent of vehicles across the bloc, there are some that worry this growth is about to “plateau.” Now that early adopters have gotten onboard the EV hype train, Reuters warns that other buyers may take more convincing, or may prefer to wait for more affordable models to hit the market before they jump on board.