EVs may be green, but are they sustainable?

by Nolan Finley

The auto industry needs fewer cheerleaders and more skeptics. Like Carlos Tavares. 

The Stellantis chief executive is running against the tide of automakers and policymakers who are surging blindly toward an electric vehicle future that may not be sustainable. 

Speaking recently at the Freedom of Mobility Forum, Tavares issued fair warning that both the government and companies seem determined to ignore: There’s not enough raw material to replace the current 1.3 billion gasoline-powered vehicles with an all-electric fleet. 

“That will need a lot of lithium,” he said. “Not only the lithium may not be enough, but the concentration of the mining of lithium may create other geopolitical issues.”  

What happens then, when the bans on internal combustion vehicle sales kick in? Seven U.S. states and the European Union have plans to stop selling ICE cars and trucks by 2035. 

If a long-term, plentiful supply of lithium, as well as the cobalt and nickel also needed for batteries, isn’t found, production of EVs won’t match the coerced demand for them. Prices will go even higher than they are now. Not everyone who wants or needs a vehicle will be able to buy one. 

Driving will become an elite activity (with new car prices averaging $50,000 this year, it nearly is already). 

Tavares said what other top automobile executives lack the courage to admit: Stellantis won’t be able to serve all its current customers. 

“The affordability is not there, because the raw materials are scarce and very expensive, and I would add very volatile,” he said. 

Most likely to be harmed by this poorly considered transition are the poor and those who live in places where the infrastructure to support EVs will be slow to build out. 

Tavares also warned of geopolitical issues. They’re real. In their desperation to lock up mineral supplies and technology, American automakers are rushing into multi-billion-dollar alliances with Chinese interests as if they were unaware of the fraying relationship between the United States and China. 

Ford, for example, is partnering with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. to build a $3.5 billion battery plant in Marshall, heavily subsidized by Michigan taxpayers. The Dearborn-based automaker also joined a $4.5 billion Indonesian nickel smelter project with a Chinese battery materials producer. 

What happens to the Blue Oval’s investments should hostilities break out between the U.S. and China, which some experts are predicting could happen sooner rather than later?  

If China’s growing aggression toward Taiwan leads to an actual invasion, it could bring down the entire U.S. auto industry. 

Tavares is waving huge red flags the industry and worldwide governments are ignoring in locking themselves into electric vehicles as the solution for saving the planet. Despite his trepidation, his own company has committed to spending $35 billion over the next two years to build new plug-in models to replace the ICE lines Stellantis is killing. 

I’m not sure whether the willful ignorance of the consequences of a quickie divorce of automobiles from fossil fuels is madness or fanaticism. But I do know that mobility and freedom are inextricably linked. Americans are looking at a future in which they’ll be less mobile and less free. 

Nolan Finley is the editorial page editor at The Detroit News.