We cover every angle and every corner of the electric vehicle market. We’ve done so for years. I’ve been calling the 2020s the decade of batteries and the decade of autonomy, because I think these are the two most important portions of the transportation market in the coming years. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emphasized repeatedly: they have plenty of consumer demand (plenty), but they have a battery bottleneck. That was the case in 2020. That was the case in 2019. That was the case in 2018. That will be the case in 2021, 2022, 2023, and … for who knows how long?
Do I think the auto market could switch to 100% electric vehicles by 2030? Abso-freakin’-lutely! As long as there are enough batteries. Unfortunately, every battery expert I talk to tells me that there’s no chance there will be enough battery production capacity globally in 2030 for 100% EV sales. The other thing everyone in the industry knows: the vast majority of the battery mineral processing and much of the battery production happens in China. China is essentially assuming the role of “the OPEC of battery production.” Electric vehicle market share is going to rise from a couple of percent to 50%+ quite quickly. Which countries will benefit? The countries that have built economic engines (bad pun not intended) around batteries.
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm gets it. She went on a great rant about this in a recent MSNBC interview. She also touched on other cleantech and energy matters that are of critical importance. You can watch her roll through the topics in superb style starting at 4:34 in the video via the link above (and perhaps via the embedded YouTube player below). But I’m also putting it into text for those who prefer to read.
“In Michigan, we build the automobile, so we want to make sure we have a supply chain for the electric vehicle, and that supply chain includes the battery for that electric vehicle. And the battery itself uses minerals that are critical for the content of those batteries, like lithium and cobalt. … We don’t do much of that extraction in this country. We don’t do any of the processing of those minerals in this country.
“Those kinds of jobs we should be doing instead of ceding the territory to our economic competitors, like China. China has a very specific strategic plan to corner the market on batteries, on critical materials, on whatever they can (haha) in the clean energy economy because they see that America has been standing still.
“So, for Michigan and for other countries [read: states] in the industrial Midwest, this plan focuses on creating a manufacturing backbone. We are down to a 72-year low in manufacturing jobs in this country. It’s ridiculous.
“If we want to have energy security, if we want to have economic security, and if we want to have national security, we need to make sure we’re building the means for them. We don’t have any companies in the country that build transformers for the electric grid. We get them from Asia! We get them from China! Come on. If we want to make sure there’s not hacking on our grid, we’ve got to be building that stuff here, and that’s what this plan does — it focuses on building the manufacturing backbone and supply chain so that we can be economically secure, energy secure, and nationally secure.”
I’m not for hating on anyone, let alone entire countries of billions of people, but there’s no denying that China is the premier economic challenger for the USA internationally. Russian oligarchs, led by Putin, may be most vociferously attacking our culture and politics, but China is building a monumental economic machine that has taken and threatens countless American jobs, increasingly across the various strata of the economy.
Secretary Granholm’s monologue on this, being just a few minutes long, highlighted that the Biden administration sees the challenge exactly for what it is, is laser focused on trying to use the opportunity to better the United States. “We don’t do much of that extraction in this country. We don’t do any of the processing of those minerals in this country.” That statement clearly needles the issue and communicates that the Biden administration is going to work its tail off to mine more critical battery minerals and process
more at least some of them, hopefully a lot of them.
“Those kinds of jobs we should be doing instead of ceding the territory to our economic competitors, like China. China has a very specific strategic plan to corner the market on batteries, on critical materials” — Secretary Granholm highlights that this is about the jobs of the future, the leading economies of the future. If we don’t get our crap together, China will win the future. If we don’t get organized, the auto-related manufacturing jobs of the future will largely be in China and minimally be in the United States. Secretary Granholm emphasizes rightly that it’s not just about letting the invisible hand of the free market do its job. The Chinese system acts like a strongly and strategically managed capitalistic market. The governmental leaders put boxes around the market based on where it sees the world heading, and then throws seeds, soil, and water in, but then lets nature take its course (an economic nature in this case). However, we do it, Americans also need to find a practical, efficient way to put together an enormous amount of soil, seeds, and water so that our economy isn’t barren and apocalyptic in 10 years. (Let’s be honest — 2020 was not a good preview of a movie we’d like to be living in.)
Regarding “this plan focuses on creating a manufacturing backbone,” Granholm is referring to the Biden infrastructure plan, which is the administration’s chief focus now. The infrastructure bill that the Biden team wants to get through Congress is the soil and water. The federal agencies that Granholm, Deb Haaland (Department of the Interior), Michael Regan (EPA), Pete Buttigieg (Department of Transportation), and others are leading will provide the seeds. Together, they and we can grow some serious battery mineral gardens and battery production farms to help support the electric vehicle market in the United States and abroad. But everyone in the game knows that action must be taken quickly, because our president won’t be president for life, and our Congress could be lost to the control of conspiracy theorists who couldn’t recognize a collapsing oil rig if it hit them in the face in less than 2 years. You can hear the urgency in Granholm’s voice as she speaks. You can see the seriousness of it on her face. You can smell it … oh, wait, no, smell doesn’t come through on YouTube (yet).
“At least we’ve got Tesla” can’t be our favorite line to accept global defeat in the fast-growing cleantech economy of the future (especially when Tesla is almost equally in China as it is in the USA). We’ll see what Granholm and others can do to get Biden’s agenda through ASAP, but perhaps the best thing all of us could do is call up Joe Manchin and tell him all about the blue-collar and green-collar jobs we’d like him to bring to the United States faster than the Herd can score a touchdown on some Ivy League sissies!
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