About 350 miles northwest of Montreal, amid a vast pine forest, is a deep mining pit with walls of mottled rock. The pit has changed hands repeatedly and been mired in bankruptcy, but now it could help determine the future of electric vehicles.
The mine contains lithium, an indispensable ingredient in electric car batteries that is in short supply. If it opens on schedule early next year, it will be the second North American source of that metal, offering hope that badly needed raw materials can be extracted and refined close to Canadian, U.S. and Mexican auto factories, in line with Biden administration policies that aim to break China’s dominance of the battery supply chain.
Having more mines will also help contain the price of lithium, which has soared fivefold since mid-2021, pushing the cost of electric vehicles so high that they are out of reach for many drivers. The average new electric car in the United States costs about $66,000, just a few thousand dollars short of the median household income last year.
lithium mines are in various stages of development in Canada and the United States. Canada has made it a mission to become a major source of raw materials and components for electric vehicles. But most of these projects are years away from production. Even if they are able to raise the billions of dollars needed to get going, there is no guarantee they will yield enough lithium to meet the continent’s needs.
eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars will also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.
Tax code. The law introduces a new 15 percent corporate minimum tax on the profits companies report to shareholders, applying to companies that report more than $1 billion in annual income but are able to use credits, deductions and other tax treatments to lower their effective tax rates. The legislation will bolster the I.R.S. with an investment of about $80 billion.
Low-income communities. The package includes over $60 billion in support of low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately burdened by climate change. Among the provisions are grants for zero-emissions technology and money to mitigate the negative effects of highways and other transportation facilities.
Fossil fuels industry. The legislation requires the federal government to auction off more public space for oil drilling and expand tax credits for coal and gas-burning plants that rely on carbon capture technology. These provisions are among those that were added to gain the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.
West Virginia. The law is expected to bring big benefits to Mr. Manchin’s state, the nation’s second-largest producer of coal, making permanent a federal trust fund to support miners with black lung disease and offering new incentives to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed.
For many people in government and the auto industry, the main concern is whether there will be enough lithium to meet soaring demand for electric vehicles.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed in August, has raised the stakes for the auto industry. To qualify for several incentives and subsidies in the law, which go to car buyers and automakers and are worth a total of $10,000 or more per electric vehicle, battery makers must use raw materials from North America or a country with which the United States has a trade agreement.
California and other states move to ban internal combustion engines. “It’s going to take everything we can do and our competitors can do over the next five years to keep up,” Mr. Norris said.
One of the first things that Sayona had to do when it took over the La Corne mine was pump out water that had filled the pit, exposing terraced walls of dark and pale stone from previous excavations. Lighter rock contains lithium.
After being blasted loose and crushed, the rock is processed in several stages to remove waste material. A short drive from the mine, inside a large building with walls of corrugated blue metal, a laser scanner uses jets of compressed air to separate light-colored lithium ore. The ore is then refined in vats filled with detergent and water, where the lithium floats to the surface and is skimmed away.
The end product looks like fine white sand but it is still only about 6 percent lithium. The rest includes aluminum, silicon and other substances. The material is sent to refineries, most of them in China, to be further purified.
Yves Desrosiers, an engineer and a senior adviser at Sayona, began working at the La Corne mine in 2012. During a tour, he expressed satisfaction at what he said were improvements made by Sayona and Piedmont. Those include better control of dust, and a plan to restore the site once the lithium runs out in a few decades.
“The productivity will be a lot better because we are correcting everything,” Mr. Desrosiers said. In a few years, the company plans to upgrade the facility to produce lithium carbonate, which contains a much higher concentration of lithium than the raw metal extracted from the ground.
The operation will get its electricity from Quebec’s abundant hydropower plants, and will use only recycled water in the separation process, Mr. Desrosiers said. Still, environmental activists are watching the project warily.
Mining is a pillar of the Quebec economy, and the area around La Corne is populated with people whose livelihoods depend on extraction of iron, nickel, copper, zinc and other metals. There is an active gold mine near the largest city in the area, Val-d’Or, or Valley of Gold.
Mining “is our life,” said Sébastien D’Astous, a metallurgist turned politician who is the mayor of Amos, a small city north of La Corne. “Everybody knows, or has in the near family, people who work in mining or for contractors.”
Most people support the lithium mine, but a significant minority oppose it, Mr. D’Astous said. Opponents fear that another lithium mine being developed by Sayona in nearby La Motte, Quebec, could contaminate an underground river.
Rodrigue Turgeon, a local lawyer and program co-leader for MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, has pushed to make sure the Sayona mines undergo rigorous environmental reviews. Long Point First Nation, an Indigenous group that says the mines are on its ancestral territory, wants to conduct its own environmental impact study.
Sébastien Lemire, who represents the region around La Corne in the Canadian Parliament, said he wanted to make sure that the wealth created by lithium mining flowed to the people of Quebec rather than to outside investors.
Mr. Lemire praised activists for being “vigilant” about environmental standards, but he favors the mine and drives an electric car, a Chevrolet Bolt.
“If we don’t do it,” he said at a cafe in La Corne, “we’re missing the opportunity of the electrification of transport.”
Hiding a thousand feet below the earth’s surface in this patch of northern Minnesota wetlands are ancient mineral deposits that some view as critical to fueling America’s clean energy future.
poor environmental record in the United States, and an even more checkered footprint globally. While some in the area argue the mine could bring good jobs to a sparsely populated region, others are deeply fearful that it could spoil local lakes and streams that feed into the Mississippi River. There is also concern that it could endanger the livelihoods and culture of Ojibwe tribes whose members live just over a mile from Talon’s land and have gathered wild rice here for generations.
provoked outrage in 2020 by blowing up a 46,000-year-old system of Aboriginal caves in Australia in a search for iron ore.
at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the state. Locals say the only Tesla for miles is Talon’s company car.
“Talon and Rio Tinto will come and go — greatly enriched by their mining operation. But we, and the remnants of the Tamarack mine, will be here forever,” Mr. Applegate said.
near tribal land.
approved a plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035.
Indonesia and the Philippines, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide before being refined in Chinese factories powered by coal.
Another source of nickel is a massive mining operation north of the Arctic Circle in Norilsk, Russia, which has produced so much sulfur dioxide that a plume of the toxic gas is big enough to be seen from space. Other minerals used in electric vehicle batteries, such as lithium and cobalt, appear to have been mined or refined with the use of child or forced labor.
With global demand for electric vehicles projected to grow sixfold by 2030, the dirty origins of this otherwise promising green industry have become a looming crisis. The Democrats’ new tax and climate bill devotes nearly $400 billion to clean energy initiatives over the next decade, including electric vehicle tax credits and financing for companies that manufacture clean cars in the United States.
Read More on Electric Vehicles
New domestic high-tech mines and factories could make this supply chain more secure, and potentially less damaging to the global environment. But skeptics say those facilities may still pose a risk to the air, soil and water that surrounds them, and spark a fierce debate about which communities might bear those costs.
can leach out sulfuric acid and heavy metals. More than a dozen former copper mines in the United States are now Superfund sites, contaminated locations where taxpayers can end up on the hook for cleanup.
canceled leases for another copper-nickel mine near a Minnesota wilderness area, saying the Trump administration had improperly renewed them.
Talon Metals insists that it will have no such problems. “We can produce the battery materials that are necessary for the energy transition and also protect the environment,” said Todd Malan, the company’s chief external affairs officer and head of climate strategy. “It’s not a choice.”
The company is using high-tech equipment to map underground flows of water in the area and create a 3-D model of the ore, so it can mine “surgically” while leaving other parts of the earth undisturbed, Mr. Malan said. Talon is also promising to use technology that will safely store the mine’s toxic byproducts and do its mining far underground, in deep bedrock where groundwater doesn’t typically penetrate.
Talon has teamed up with the United Steelworkers union on work force development. And Rio Tinto has won a $2.2 million Department of Energy grant to explore capturing carbon near the site, which may allow the mine to market its products as zero emission.
estimates, the world will need roughly 20 times as much nickel and cobalt by 2040 as it had in 2020 and 40 times as much lithium.
Recycling could play a bigger role in supplying these materials by the end of the decade, and some new car batteries do not use any nickel. Yet nickel is still highly sought after for electric trucks and higher-end cars, because it increases a vehicle’s range.
The infrastructure law passed last year devoted $7 billion to developing the domestic supply chain for critical minerals. The climate and tax law also sets ambitious thresholds for ensuring that electric vehicles that receive tax incentives are partly U.S.-made.
has begged miners to produce more.
is home to deposits of nickel, copper and cobalt, which were formed 1.1 billion years ago from a volcano that spewed out miles of liquid magma.
Talon has leased 31,000 acres of land in the area, covering an 11-mile geological feature deep under the swamp. The company has zealously drilled and examined the underground resources along one of those 11 miles, and discovered several other potential satellite deposits.
In August, the company announced that it had also acquired land in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to explore for more nickel.
Talon will start Minnesota’s environmental review process within a few months, and the company says it anticipates a straightforward review. But legal challenges for proposed mines can regularly stretch to a decade or more, and some living near the project say they will do what they can to fight the mine.
Elizabeth Skinaway and her sister, Jean Skinaway-Lawrence, members of the Sandy Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa, are especially concerned about damage to the wild rice, which Ms. Skinaway has been gathering in lakes several miles from the proposed mine for 43 years.
Ms. Skinaway acknowledges the need to combat climate change, which also threatens the rice. But she sees little justice in using the same kind of profit-driven, extractive industry that she said had long plundered native lands and damaged the global environment.
“The wild rice, the gift from the creator, that’s going to be gone, from the sulfide that’s going to leach into the river and the lakes,” she said. “It’s just a really scary thought.”
“We were here first,” said her sister. “We should be heard.”
Tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed last week is a major expansion of federal loan programs that could help the fight against climate change by channeling more money to clean energy and converting plants that run on fossil fuels to nuclear or renewable energy.
The law authorizes as much as $350 billion in additional federal loans and loan guarantees for energy and automotive projects and businesses. The money, which will be disbursed by the Energy Department, is in addition to the more well-known provisions of the law that offer incentives for the likes of electric cars, solar panels, batteries and heat pumps.
The aid could breathe life into futuristic technologies that banks might find too risky to lend to or into projects that are just short of the money they need to get going.
failure of Solyndra, a solar company that had borrowed about $500 million from the Energy Department, to criticize the Obama administration’s climate and energy policies.
Backers of the program have argued that despite defaults like Solyndra, the program has been sustainable overall. Of the $31 billion the department has disbursed, about 40 percent has been repaid and interest payments in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, totaled $533 million — more money than the failed Solyndra loan.
The Energy Department’s loan programs began in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration but expanded significantly in the Obama era. The department provided a crucial loan that helped Tesla expand when it only sold expensive two-door electric sports cars; the company is now the world’s most valuable automaker.
Under the Trump administration, which played down the risks of climate change, the department’s loan office was much less active. The Biden team has been working to change that. Last month, the department said it planned to loan $2.5 billion to General Motors and LG Energy Solution to build electric-car battery factories in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
complicate the qualification process.
Plug-In Hybrids: After falling behind all-electric cars, U.S. sales of plug-in hybrids have been surging. The high cost of electric cars and gasoline have given them an opening.
Car Crashes: Tesla and other automakers capture data from their vehicles to operate their products. Experts say the collected information could also improve road safety.
A Frustrating Hassle: The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken.
One beneficiary of the new loan money could be the Palisades Power Plant, a nuclear facility on Lake Michigan near Kalamazoo, Mich., that closed in May. The plant had struggled to compete in the PJM energy market, which serves homes and businesses in 13 states, including Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
The Biden administration has made nuclear power a focal point of its efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2035. The administration has offered billions of dollars to help existing facilities like the Diablo Canyon Power Plant — a nuclear operation on California’s coast that is set to close by the end of 2025 — stay open longer. It is also backing new technologies like small modular reactors that the industry has long said would be cheaper, safer and easier to build than conventional large nuclear reactors.
The owner of the Palisades facility, Holtec International, said it was reviewing the loan program and other opportunities for its own small reactors as well as bringing the shuttered plant back online.
“There are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be bridged,” the company said in a statement, “but we will work with the state, federal government, and a yet to be identified third-party operator to see if this is a viable option.”
Rye Development, a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that is working on several projects in the Pacific Northwest.
geothermal power; old coal power plants as sites for large batteries; and old coal mines for solar farms. Such conversions could reduce the need to build projects on undeveloped land, which often takes longer because they require extensive environmental review and can face significant local opposition.
“We’re in a heap of trouble in siting the many millions of acres of solar we need,” Mr. Reicher said. “It’s six to 10 million acres of land we’ve got to find to site the projected build out of utility scale solar in the United States. That’s huge.”
Other developers are hoping the government will help finance technologies and business plans that are still in their infancy.
Timothy Latimer is the chief executive and co-founder of Fervo Energy, a Houston company that uses the same horizontal drilling techniques as oil and gas producers to develop geothermal energy. He said that his firm can produce clean energy 24 hours a day or produce more or less energy over the course of a day to balance out the intermittent nature of wind and solar power and spikes in demand.
Mr. Latimer claims that the techniques his firm has developed will lower the cost for geothermal power, which in many cases is more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas or solar panels. He has projects under development in Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California and said that the new loan authority could help the geothermal business expand much more quickly.
“It’s been the talk of the geothermal industry,” Mr. Latimer said. “I don’t think we were expecting good news a month ago, but we’re getting more ready for prime time. We have barely scratched the surface with the amount of geothermal that we can develop in the United States.”
For all the potential of the new law, critics say that a significant expansion of government loans and loan guarantees could invite more waste and fraud. In addition to Solyndra, the Energy Department has acknowledged that several solar projects that received its loans or loan guarantees have failed or never got off the ground.
A large nuclear plant under construction in Georgia, Vogtle, has also received $11.5 billion in federal loan guarantees. The plant has been widely criticized for years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.
“Many of these projects are funded based on political whim rather than project quality,” said Gary Ackerman, founder and former executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, a coalition of more than 100 utilities and other businesses that trade in energy markets. “That leads to many stranded assets that never live up to their promises and become examples of government waste.”
But Jamie Carlson, who was a senior adviser to the energy secretary during the Obama administration, said the department learned from its mistakes and developed a better approach to reviewing and approving loan applications. It also worked more closely with businesses seeking money to ensure that they were successful.
“It used to be this black box,” said Ms. Carlson, who is now an executive at SoftBank Energy. “You just sat in purgatory for like 18 months and sometimes up to two years.”
Ms. Carlson said the department’s loans serve a vital function because they can help technologies and companies that have demonstrated some commercial success but need more money to become financially viable. “It’s there to finance technologies that are proven but perhaps to banks that are perceived as more risky,” she said.
Energy executives said they were excited because more federal loans and loan guarantees could turbocharge their plans.
“The projects that can be done will go faster,” said William W. Funderburk Jr., a former commissioner at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who now runs a water and energy company. “This is a tectonic plate shift for the industry — in a good way.”
Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.
Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.
But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.
would eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.
Energy industry. The bill would provide billions of dollars in rebates for Americans who buy energy efficient and electric appliances as well as tax credits for companies that build new sources of emissions-free electricity. The package also sets aside $60 billion to encourage clean energy manufacturing and requires businesses to pay a penalty for methane emissions that exceed federal limits starting in 2024.
Low-income communities. The bill would invest over $60 billion to support low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately burdened by effects of climate change. This includes grants for zero-emissions technology and vehicles, as well as money to mitigate the negative effects of highways, bus depots and other transportation facilities.
Fossil fuels industry. The bill would require the federal government to auction off more public lands and waters for oil drilling and expand tax credits for coal and gas-burning plants that rely on carbon capture technology. These provisions are among those that were added to gain the support of Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.
West Virginia. The bill would also bring big benefits to Mr. Manchin’s state, the nation’s second-largest producer of coal, making permanent a federal trust fund to support miners with black lung disease and offering new incentives for companies to build wind and solar farms in areas where coal mines or coal plants have recently closed.
With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.
Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”
Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.
Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.
Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.
pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used-car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.
But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used-vehicle market.
The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles three or four years before trading them in.
SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.
New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go farther are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes.
Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.
“You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition, which helped the battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”
$45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.
“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.
Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.
The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.”
A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.
Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely that many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.
Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.
“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”
While those compensation totals are taken from the company’s financial filings, they are often estimates driven by the companies’ attempts to value the stock their chief executives might receive. As a result, the executives may earn less than those totals, especially if the bear market persists and their companies’ stock prices remain depressed, but they could also take home far higher amounts should the stocks recover.
Many of the highest-ranking executives in the survey received pay packages that were far larger than those of the heads of far bigger companies with much larger profits. For example, Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, received his first equity award since 2011 last year and had total compensation of $99 million, putting him just 13th in the survey.
Despite the growth in pay, shareholders, apparently believing that it is being tied to performance, have voted in favor of most packages. Only 3 percent of “say on pay” votes got less than 50 percent support from shareholders in the year through June 3, according to an analysis of 1,444 public companies by Willis Towers Watson, a consulting firm that advises companies on executive pay programs and corporate governance matters.
For several years, public companies have had to compare their chief executive’s compensation with that of a typical employee, the result of a regulation passed by Congress that aimed to help investors assess the level of executive pay. Last year, chief executives earned 339 times more than the median pay of employees at their companies, up from 311 times in 2020, according to Equilar. The median employee wage rose 10 percent last year, to $92,349 from $83,808.
Last year’s executive pay jumped in part because corporate boards, which decide chief executive compensation, wanted to reward top officers for navigating their companies through the pandemic.
In addition, the stock market rallied in 2021, and the value of stock grants, which typically constitute the largest share of chief executive compensation, was also higher. When stock prices are rising, boards tend to say executives are doing a good job — and pay them more.
Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, plans to cut 10 percent of the electric carmaker’s salaried work force, he told staff in an email on Friday.
The job cuts will not apply to employees who build cars or batteries or who install solar panels, and the number of hourly employees will increase, Mr. Musk said in the email, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times. “Tesla will be reducing salaried head count by 10 percent, as we have become over staffed in many areas,” he said.
Reuters reported the news earlier, citing a different email that Mr. Musk sent only to Tesla executives. The automaker’s share price closed on Friday down about 9 percent after that article was published.
Tesla’s staff has grown substantially as sales have surged and it has built new factories, including two that opened this year near Berlin and Austin, Texas. The company employed more than 99,000 workers at the end of last year. Just two years earlier, Tesla had 48,000.
2017 and 2018.
In recent weeks, investors have begun questioning the company’s sky-high stock price. The market values the company at more than $728 billion, more than several other large automakers combined. Tesla’s shares are down about 40 percent from their high at the end of last year, bringing attention to the risks the company faces from growing competition, accusations of racial discrimination and production problems at its factory in Shanghai.
buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion. Here’s how the deal unfolded:
The initial offer. Mr. Musk made an unsolicited bid worth more than $40 billion for the influential social network, saying that he wanted to make Twitter a private company and that he wanted people to be able to speak more freely on the service.
“From a corporate good-governance perspective, Tesla has a lot of red flags,” Andrew Poreda, a senior analyst who specializes in socially responsible investing at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm in Austin, told The Times last month. “There are almost no checks and balances.”
Mr. Musk’s management style and success — he is listed as the world’s richest man by Bloomberg and Forbes — have earned him admirers but have made him a lightning rod. Tesla has lost a number of top executives in recent years, many of whom have gone on to top jobs at other automakers, tech companies and battery makers.
Recently, Mr. Musk praised the work ethic in China, where labor conditions can be harsh or even abusive, suggesting that workers in the United States were lazy. “They won’t just be burning the midnight oil. They’ll be burning the 3 a.m. oil,” he said about Chinese workers in an interview with The Financial Times. “So they won’t even leave the factory type of thing. Whereas in America, people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”
Still, some analysts remain bullish about Tesla’s prospects. “In our view, Tesla likely does not need to hire any more employees to maintain its growth, and we think the plan to reduce the work force likely shows that Tesla over hired last year,” Seth Goldstein, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, said in a note on Friday.
Kimbal Musk and Mr. Gracias, who left Tesla’s board last year and serves as a SpaceX director, declined to comment for this article.
Today, Mr. Musk oversees or is associated with at least a dozen companies, including public ones, private ones and holding companies such as Wyoming Steel, which he uses to manage real estate. His net worth stands at about $250 billion.
A Close Circle
As Mr. Musk established more companies, he collected associates he could deploy across many of the endeavors.
One was Mary Beth Brown, who was hired in 2002 to essentially be Mr. Musk’s executive assistant. Known as M.B., she soon became a kind of chief of staff, handling media requests and some financial matters for SpaceX and Tesla, as well as helping to manage Mr. Musk’s personal life, said Ashlee Vance, the author of “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.”
That same year, Mr. Musk hired Gwynne Shotwell as SpaceX’s seventh employee. As the rocket maker’s president and chief operating officer, Ms. Shotwell has overseen the company’s growth, becoming one of Mr. Musk’s longest-lasting employees.
At a conference in 2018, Ms. Shotwell explained how she managed Mr. Musk.
“When Elon says something, you have to pause and not immediately blurt out, ‘Well, that’s impossible,’ or, ‘There’s no way we’re going to do that. I don’t know how,’” she said. “So you zip it, and you think about it. And you find ways to get that done.”
The appeal of off-grid homes has grown in part because utilities have become less reliable. As natural disasters linked to climate change have increased, there have been more extended blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and other states.
A Critical Year for Electric Vehicles
The popularity of battery-powered cars is soaring worldwide, even as the overall auto market stagnates.
Californians are also upset that electricity rates keep rising and state policymakers have proposed reducing incentives for installing solar panels on homes connected to the grid. Installing off-grid solar and battery systems is expensive, but once the systems are up and running, they typically require modest maintenance and homeowners no longer have an electric bill.
RMI, a research organization formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, has projected that by 2031 most California homeowners will save money by going off the grid as solar and battery costs fall and utility rates increase. That phenomenon will increasingly play out in less sunny regions like the Northeast over the following decades, the group forecasts.
David Hochschild, chairman of the California Energy Commission, a regulatory agency, said the state’s residents tend to be early adopters, noting that even a former governor, Jerry Brown, lives in an off-grid home. But Mr. Hochschild added that he was not convinced that such an approach made sense for most people. “We build 100,000 new homes a year in California, and I would guess 99.99 percent of them are connected to the grid,” he said.
Some energy experts worry that people who are going off the grid could unwittingly hurt efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That is because the excess electricity that rooftop solar panels produce will no longer reach the grid, where it can replace power from coal or natural gas plants. “We don’t need everybody to cut the cord and go it alone,” said Mark Dyson, senior principal with the carbon-free electricity unit of RMI.
Solar Panels and a View
Pepe Cancino moved from Santa Monica to Nevada County in 2020 after he and his wife, Diane, lost their jobs during the pandemic. They bought five acres with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. Mr. Cancino, 42, a former home health care worker, picked up a chain saw and an ax and began learning how to build a house and generate his own power.
When they finish their two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home this fall, the family, including their 15-year-old daughter, will generate electricity and use a well for water.
The company also did not tell investors that its chief operating officer, Rod Copes, a Harley-Davidson veteran, left the company last year. Public companies and those in the process of listing their shares generally disclose the departures of top executives. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Understand the Supply Chain Crisis
Ms. Mast said Mr. Copes had a “phased transition from Rivian in fall 2021, prior to the I.P.O.” and retired in December, after the offering.
Mr. Copes, 55, said in an interview that he did not leave Rivian because of concerns about his performance or because there were problems with production. He said that he had achieved key goals and that the structures were in place for Rivian’s ramp-up in production. “It was a smooth and seamless transition,” Mr. Copes said.
But corporate governance experts think Rivian ought to have disclosed his impending departure to investors during the I.P.O., given his senior role. “If they knew he was leaving, the optimal disclosure would have been to identify their C.O.O. but indicate that he was leaving,” John C. Coffee Jr., a professor at Columbia Law School, said in an email.
According to one former executive, Rivian has a poor management culture.
The executive, Laura Schwab, said she was fired last year from a high-ranking sales and marketing position after expressing concerns about what she called the “boys’ club culture” and “gender discrimination” at the company. She filed a lawsuit in state court in California accusing Rivian of violating the state law prohibiting employment discrimination and retaliation.
Ms. Schwab said she had been part of 30 vehicle introductions in prior auto industry jobs, including at Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover. Soon after arriving at Rivian, she said, she felt compelled to express concerns that the company was in danger of missing delivery targets.
“The production line doesn’t go from zero to thousands of cars overnight; it just doesn’t work that way,” she said.
Sales of cars powered solely by batteries surged in the United States, Europe and China last year, while deliveries of fossil fuel vehicles were stagnant. Demand for electric cars is so strong that manufacturers are requiring buyers to put down deposits months in advance. And some models are effectively sold out for the next two years.
Battery-powered cars are having a breakthrough moment and will enter the mainstream this year as automakers begin selling electric versions of one of Americans’ favorite vehicle type: pickup trucks. Their arrival represents the biggest upheaval in the auto industry since Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908 and could have far-reaching consequences for factory workers, businesses and the environment. Tailpipe emissions are among the largest contributors to climate change.
While electric vehicles still account for a small slice of the market — nearly 9 percent of the new cars sold last year worldwide were electric, up from 2.5 percent in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency — their rapid growth could make 2022 the year when the march of battery-powered cars became unstoppable, erasing any doubt that the internal combustion engine is lurching toward obsolescence.
The proliferation of electric cars will improve air quality and help slow global warming. The air in Southern California is already a bit cleaner thanks to the popularity of electric vehicles there. And the boom is a rare piece of good news for President Biden, who has struggled to advance his climate agenda in Congress.
more than a dozen new electric car and battery factories just in the United States.
“It’s one of the biggest industrial transformations probably in the history of capitalism,” Scott Keogh, chief executive of Volkswagen Group of America, said in an interview. “The investments are massive, and the mission is massive.”
But not everyone will benefit. Makers of mufflers, fuel injection systems and other parts could go out of business, leaving many workers jobless. Nearly three million Americans make, sell and service cars and auto parts, and industry experts say producing electric cars will require fewer workers because the cars have fewer components.
Over time, battery ingredients like lithium, nickel and cobalt could become more sought after than oil. Prices for these materials are already skyrocketing, which could limit sales in the short term by driving up the cost of electric cars.
The transition could also be limited by the lack of places to plug in electric cars, which has made the vehicles less appealing to people who drive long distances or apartment residents who can’t charge at home. There are fewer than 50,000 public charging stations in the United States. The infrastructure bill that Congress passed in November includes $7.5 billion for 500,000 new chargers, although experts say even that number is too small.
could take decades unless governments provide larger incentives to car buyers. Cleaning up heavy trucks, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, could be even harder.
Still, the electric car boom is already reshaping the auto industry.
The biggest beneficiary — and the biggest threat to the established order — is Tesla. Led by Elon Musk, the company delivered nearly a million cars in 2021, a 90 percent increase from 2020.
Tesla is still small compared with auto giants, but it commands the segment with the fastest growth. Wall Street values the company at about $1 trillion, more than 10 times as much as General Motors. That means Tesla, which is building factories in Texas and Germany, can easily expand.
“At the rate it’s growing now, it will be bigger than G.M. in five years,” said John Casesa, a former Ford executive who is now a senior managing director at Guggenheim Securities, at a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago forum in January.
Most analysts figured that electric vehicles wouldn’t take off until they became as inexpensive to buy as gasoline models — a milestone that is still a few years away for moderately priced cars that most people can afford.
But as extreme weather makes the catastrophic effects of climate change more tangible, and word gets around that electric cars are easy to maintain, cheap to refuel and fun to drive, affluent buyers are increasingly going electric.
outsold diesel cars in Europe for the first time. In 18 countries, including Britain, more than 20 percent of new cars were electric, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.
Inevitably, a transition this momentous will cause dislocation. Most new battery and electric car factories planned by automakers are in Southern states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. Their gains could come at the expense of the Midwest, which would lose internal combustion production jobs.
Toyota, a pioneer in hybrid vehicles, will not offer a car powered solely by batteries until later this year. Ram does not plan to release a competitor to Ford’s Lightning until 2024.
Chinese companies like SAIC, which owns the British MG brand, are using the technological shift to enter Europe and other markets. Young companies like Lucid, Rivian and Nio aim to follow Tesla’s playbook.
Old-line carmakers face a stiff learning curve. G.M. recalled its Bolt electric hatchback last year because of the risk of battery fires.
The companies most endangered may be small machine shops in Michigan or Ontario that produce piston rings and other parts. At the moment, these businesses are busy because of pent-up demand for all vehicles, said Carla Bailo, chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“A lot of them kind of have blinders on and are not looking that far down the road,” Ms. Bailo said “That’s troubling.”