AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a lot of interest in a particular type of car at this year’s Austin Auto Show. Companies like Ford, Subaru and Kia are highlighting their electric vehicles (EVs).
“I do think it has an overall positive impact on the environment,” said Rodney Almaraz, who’s been thinking about buying a Chevy Bolt. “If we can reduce our dependency more… from fossil fuels to other types of alternative energy, I think it’s just better for us in the long run.”
Many of the electric cars on the Austin Auto Show’s floor are already on limited availability — a Ford spokesperson said their electric F-150 has more than 100,000 orders and isn’t out yet.
They’ve closed reservations for those until they can stock up on the cars.
The 2022 Kia Niro EV “is a limited production model sold in select states in select Kia Retailers,” according to the company’s website, which shows the closest available unit to Austin is more than 150 miles away in Granbury.
Teague Egan, founder and CEO of EnergyX, believes part of the reason behind limited availability is because of a scarcity of lithium in the market — essential for EV batteries.
Elon Musk cited cost as a reason why Tesla might look into mining and refining lithium itself.
“Price of lithium has gone to insane levels! Tesla might actually have to get into the mining & refining directly at scale, unless costs improve,” Musk Tweeted earlier this month. “There is no shortage of the element itself, as lithium is almost everywhere on Earth, but pace of extraction/refinement is slow.”
In a Tesla earnings call this week, Musk said the metal is also an obstacle to scaling production.
“Right now we think mining and refining lithium is… appears to be a limiting factor, and certainly is responsible for quite a bit of cost growth in sales,” he said. “I think it’s the single biggest cost growth item right now.”
Musk urged entrepreneurs “to get into the lithium business.”
“Can more people please get into the lithium business?” he said. “Do you like minting money? Well, the lithium business is for you.”
“You have to ask yourself why [Tesla] Cybertrucks have not been delivered yet,” Egan said. “He [Elon Musk] has three million pre-orders for Cybertrucks that started five years ago. Why don’t we have those yet?”
Egan said other reasons include securing steel supply and getting the Gigafactory online. His company works on a more efficient way to extract lithium to get more to the market faster.
“Without solving the lithium shortage that means either a) more expensive electric vehicles or b) … electric vehicles coming to market slower,” he said.
Edward Anderson is the Wright Centennial Professor for Management of Innovative Technology Director at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.
He said the shortage of lithium in the market is also causing price increases.
“The lithium shortage so far has impacted costs,” he said. “Producing electric vehicles is roughly almost $1,000 more expensive than it was, say, a year and a half ago.”
“And that’s likely to get worse,” he added.
Anderson said Tesla is also backlogged by more than 120,000 vehicles and may not be able to meet its goals if more lithium isn’t extracted, refined and sold on the market.
“A lot of experts are estimating it might reduce production to about 50% of what’s desired because we’re ramping up EV production throughout the country, and there’s just not going to be enough lithium for that and, hence, not enough batteries,” Anderson said. “Tesla is among others, they’re not the only ones who are looking to secure lithium supplies.”
Egan said there are different types of batteries for EVs, but they all require lithium.
“That’s kind of what we’re seeing both with Tesla’s price hikes and the delays on Cybertruck, the delays on GMs and Fords and everybody’s push to market,” he said.
The Austin Auto Show runs for a final day on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center.