“The F-150 is generally driven by guys who have a certain image of driving around in a truck — and that image includes noise, gasoline, a muscle engine. We don’t know anything about consumer uptake of eclectic trucks. We don’t know if they’ll want to drive this.”
A study published this year found that about 20 percent of people who purchased electric passenger vehicles were dissatisfied with them — in part because they worried about the lack of electric vehicle charging stations — and returned to driving traditional vehicles.
But White House officials say the pickup Mr. Biden drove on Tuesday could help tip that calculation. The F-150 “has really been a high-performing work vehicle and leisure vehicle, and now you can get it without the expense of all of that gasoline,” Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, said in an interview.
So far, only Tesla has sold electric models in high volume, but Ford typically sells about 900,000 F-Series vehicles a year. Earlier this year, Ford began selling the Mustang Mach E, a battery-powered sport-utility vehicle styled to resemble the company’s famous sports car.
“We’re not just electrifying fringe vehicles,” the company’s chairman, William C. Ford Jr., said. “The Mustang and the F-150 are the heart of what Ford is, so this is a signal about how serious we are about electrification.”
Autoworkers have expressed concerns over the electric transition, which American automakers are increasingly embracing, because the production of an electric vehicle requires about one-third less human labor than a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
But union leaders offered cautious support of the president’s cheerleading for the electric pickup.
“It is no secret that the U.S. auto industry is at a crossroads, as sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are poised to become more and more common on our roads and highways in the years ahead both at home and abroad,” said Rory L. Gamble, the president of the United Auto Workers. “Taxpayer dollars should be spent in support of U.S.-built vehicles, not imports. ”
Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.
The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.
But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste.
“Blowing up a mountain isn’t green, no matter how much marketing spin people put on it,” said Max Wilbert, who has been living in a tent on the proposed mine site while two lawsuits seeking to block the project wend their way through federal courts.
Electric cars and renewable energy may not be as green as they appear. Production of raw materials like lithium, cobalt and nickel that are essential to these technologies are often ruinous to land, water, wildlife and people.
That environmental toll has often been overlooked in part because there is a race underway among the United States, China, Europe and other major powers. Echoing past contests and wars over gold and oil, governments are fighting for supremacy over minerals that could help countries achieve economic and technological dominance for decades to come.
Developers and lawmakers see this Nevada project, given final approval in the last days of the Trump administration, as part of the opportunity for the United States to become a leader in producing some of these raw materials as President Biden moves aggressively to fight climate change. In addition to Nevada, businesses have proposed lithium production sites in California, Oregon, Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.
But traditional mining is one of the dirtiest businesses out there. That reality is not lost on automakers and renewable-energy businesses.
“Our new clean-energy demands could be creating greater harm, even though its intention is to do good,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director for the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, a group that vets mines for companies like BMW and Ford Motor. “We can’t allow that to happen.”
assembled by Bloomberg, and a hint of the frenzy underway.
Some of those investors are backing alternatives including a plan to extract lithium from briny water beneath California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, about 600 miles south of the Lithium Americas site.
At the Salton Sea, investors plan to use specially coated beads to extract lithium salt from the hot liquid pumped up from an aquifer more than 4,000 feet below the surface. The self-contained systems will be connected to geothermal power plants generating emission-free electricity. And in the process, they hope to generate the revenue needed to restore the lake, which has been fouled by toxic runoff from area farms for decades.
Businesses are also hoping to extract lithium from brine in Arkansas, Nevada, North Dakota and at least one more location in the United States.
The United States needs to quickly find new supplies of lithium as automakers ramp up manufacturing of electric vehicles. Lithium is used in electric car batteries because it is lightweight, can store lots of energy and can be repeatedly recharged. Analysts estimate that lithium demand is going to increase tenfold before the end of this decade as Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors and other automakers introduce dozens of electric models. Other ingredients like cobalt are needed to keep the battery stable.
Even though the United States has some of the world’s largest reserves, the country today has only one large-scale lithium mine, Silver Peak in Nevada, which first opened in the 1960s and is producing just 5,000 tons a year — less than 2 percent of the world’s annual supply. Most of the raw lithium used domestically comes from Latin America or Australia, and most of it is processed and turned into battery cells in China and other Asian countries.
In March, she announced grants to increase production of crucial minerals. “This is a race to the future that America is going to win,” she said.
So far, the Biden administration has not moved to help push more environmentally friendly options — like lithium brine extraction, instead of open pit mines. The Interior Department declined to say whether it would shift its stand on the Lithium Americas permit, which it is defending in court.
Mining companies and related businesses want to accelerate domestic production of lithium and are pressing the administration and key lawmakers to insert a $10 billion grant program into Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill, arguing that it is a matter of national security.
“Right now, if China decided to cut off the U.S. for a variety of reasons we’re in trouble,” said Ben Steinberg, an Obama administration official turned lobbyist. He was hired in January by Piedmont Lithium, which is working to build an open-pit mine in North Carolina and is one of several companies that have created a trade association for the industry.
Investors are rushing to get permits for new mines and begin production to secure contracts with battery companies and automakers.
Ultimately, federal and state officials will decide which of the two methods — traditional mining or brine extraction — is approved. Both could take hold. Much will depend on how successful environmentalists, tribes and local groups are in blocking projects.
Mr. Bartell’s biggest fear is that the mine will consume the water that keeps his cattle alive. The company has said the mine will consume 3,224 gallons per minute. That could cause the water table to drop on land Mr. Bartell owns by an estimated 12 feet, according to a Lithium Americas consultant.
While producing 66,000 tons a year of battery-grade lithium carbonate, the mine may cause groundwater contamination with metals including antimony and arsenic, according to federal documents.
The lithium will be extracted by mixing clay dug out from the mountainside with as much as 5,800 tons a day of sulfuric acid. This whole process will also create 354 million cubic yards of mining waste that will be loaded with discharge from the sulfuric acid treatment, and may contain modestly radioactive uranium, permit documents disclose.
A December assessment by the Interior Department found that over its 41-year life, the mine would degrade nearly 5,000 acres of winter range used by pronghorn antelope and hurt the habitat of the sage grouse. It would probably also destroy a nesting area for a pair of golden eagles whose feathers are vital to the local tribe’s religious ceremonies.
a lawsuit to try to block the mine.
At the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, anger over the project has boiled over, even causing some fights between members as Lithium Americas has offered to hire tribal members in jobs that will pay an average annual wage of $62,675 — twice the county’s per capita income — but that will come with a big trade-off.
“Tell me, what water am I going to drink for 300 years?” Deland Hinkey, a member of the tribe, yelled as a federal official arrived at the reservation in March to brief tribal leaders on the mining plan. “Anybody, answer my question. After you contaminate my water, what I am going to drink for 300 years? You are lying!”
The reservation is nearly 50 miles from the mine site — and far beyond the area where groundwater may be contaminated — but tribe members fear the pollution could spread.
hiring a lobbying team that includes a former Trump White House aide, Jonathan Slemrod.
Lithium Americas, which estimates there is $3.9 billion worth of recoverable lithium at the site, hopes to start mining operations next year. Its largest shareholder is the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium.
A Second Act
CalEnergy, and another business, Energy Source, have tapped the Buttes’ geothermal heat to produce electricity. The systems use naturally occurring underground steam. This same water is loaded with lithium.
Now, Berkshire Hathaway and two other companies — Controlled Thermal Resources and Materials Research — want to install equipment that will extract lithium after the water passes through the geothermal plants, in a process that will take only about two hours.
Rod Colwell, a burly Australian, has spent much of the last decade pitching investors and lawmakers on putting the brine to use. In February, a backhoe plowed dirt on a 7,000-acre site being developed by his company, Controlled Thermal Resources.
“This is the sweet spot,” Mr. Colwell said. “This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America. Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”
unemployment rate of nearly 16 percent.
“Our region is very rich in natural resources and mineral resources,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, which represents area farm workers. “However, they’re very poorly distributed. The population has not been afforded a seat at the table.”
The state has given millions in grants to lithium extraction companies, and the Legislature is considering requiring carmakers by 2035 to use California sources for some of the lithium in vehicles they sell in the state, the country’s largest electric-car market.
But even these projects have raised some questions.
Geothermal plants produce energy without emissions, but they can require tens of billions of gallons of water annually for cooling. And lithium extraction from brine dredges up minerals like iron and salt that need to be removed before the brine is injected back into the ground.
Similar extraction efforts at the Salton Sea have previously failed. In 2000, CalEnergy proposed spending $200 million to extract zinc and to help restore the Salton Sea. The company gave up on the effort in 2004.
opened demonstration projects using the brine extraction technology, with Standard Lithium tapping into a brine source already being extracted from the ground by an Arkansas chemical plant, meaning it did not need to take additional water from the ground.
“This green aspect is incredibly important,” said Robert Mintak, chief executive of Standard Lithium, who hopes the company will produce 21,000 tons a year of lithium in Arkansas within five years if it can raise $440 million in financing. “The Fred Flintstone approach is not the solution to the lithium challenge.”
Lilac Solutions, whose clients include Controlled Thermal Resources, is also working on direct lithium extraction in Nevada, North Dakota and at least one other U.S. location that it would not disclose. The company predicts that within five years, these projects could produce about 100,000 tons of lithium annually, or 20 times current domestic production.
Executives from companies like Lithium Americans question if these more innovative approaches can deliver all the lithium the world needs.
But automakers are keen to pursue approaches that have a much smaller impact on the environment.
“Indigenous tribes being pushed out or their water being poisoned or any of those types of issues, we just don’t want to be party to that,” said Sue Slaughter, Ford’s purchasing director for supply chain sustainability. “We really want to force the industries that we’re buying materials from to make sure that they’re doing it in a responsible way. As an industry, we are going to be buying so much of these materials that we do have significant power to leverage that situation very strongly. And we intend to do that.”
Gabriella Angotti-Jones contributed reporting.
Buying used could be a cheaper way to get an electric vehicle, though evaluate the car you are buying carefully, particularly the quality of the battery, because it will degrade over time. That said, a used electric vehicle could be a perfect choice for a second car for errands, commutes and other short trips.
Consider the alternatives.
As exciting as it may be to own an electric vehicle, it may not be for everyone. Many families and individuals can’t afford an E.V. that meets their needs — there are few electric vehicles with three rows and room for youth sports gear, for example, and they tend to be expensive. Others cannot easily charge at or near their homes. That’s why Mr. DeLorenzo and Mr. Fisher recommend plug-in hybrids.
“If you’re interested but not really sure you want to commit, these plug-in hybrids are kind of a gateway,” Mr. Fisher, of Consumer Reports, said.
For many people, a plug-in like a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan or the RAV4 Prime S.U.V. could effectively serve as an all-electric vehicle, he said. Toyota claims the RAV4 Prime can run for 42 miles before switching to gasoline, while Chrysler says the Pacifica has 32 miles on a full charge. If used mostly for short commutes to work and trips around town, the cars could rarely use gas. Those two vehicles and other plug-in hybrids also qualify for federal tax credits.
“You can just plug it into your normal wall outlet and charge it overnight and you can get a taste of what that’s like, having an E.V., and then maybe your next vehicle will be a pure E.V.,” he said.
Of course, gas-powered cars have grown increasingly efficient, and choosing one wisely can help reduce emissions if you are upgrading from an older vehicle. Yet many people buy cars based on what they consider alluring and attractive. And if you are wowed by the features and design of an E.V., you might find it hard to settle for anything else, Mr. DeLorenzo said.
“It’s a different experience,” he said. “It’s not the same as owning a regular car, for sure. So there’s something to be said for that.”
An electric trickle is turning into a flood: As many as 100 new E.V. models are coming to showrooms by 2025. Heavyweights including Volkswagen, General Motors and Ford are floating promises of all-electric lineups within a decade.
The end times of gasoline can almost seem a fait accompli, except for one pesky issue: Even given Tesla’s strides, we’re still waiting for the first genuine E.V. sales hit, let alone a mass exodus from unleaded.
In 2014, Nissan sold a mere 30,200 Leafs, and that’s still the American record for any non-Tesla model. Ford routinely sells more than 800,000 F-Series pickups. A single gasoline sport utility vehicle, the Toyota RAV4, finds well over 400,000 annual buyers, compared with roughly 250,000 sales last year for all E.V.s combined — 200,000 of which were Teslas.
Automakers insist we’re “this close” to a tipping point. E.V. market share is expected to grow to as much as 50 percent by 2032, from just 1.7 percent last year, said Scott Keogh, president and chief executive of Volkswagen of America. While Tesla captured 80 percent of the U.S. market for electric vehicles in 2020, VW and other global giants — with war chests built on internal-combustion engines and unmatched scale and manufacturing know-how — are well positioned to take a piece of Tesla’s pie.
prices and charging times of E.V.s, while bolstering driving range, until consumers see no reason to stick with polluting gasoline models whose energy-and-operating costs exceed the plug-in alternatives.
Like the Rolling Stones pushing the Beatles, Mr. Keogh said, healthy competition will ultimately benefit all E.V. fans and creators. And when consumers sees E.V.s proliferate in their neighbors’ driveways, and take their first test drive, there will be no going back.
Mach-E seems the most straight-up rival yet to Tesla’s Model Y, in not only price and performance but also the Ford’s maximum 300-mile driving range.
Consumers have noticed: Ford sold 3,729 Mach-Es in February, the first full month of sales, almost single-handedly chopping Tesla’s dominant E.V. share to 69 percent, from 80 percent. If Ford could maintain that pace for a full year, the Mach-E would easily set a sales record for an E.V. not built by Tesla.
Tesla’s 326-mile Model Y Long Range still squeezes a few more miles from each onboard kilowatt-hour, owing to the carmaker’s expertise in aerodynamics, motor and battery efficiency, and to “simple” stuff that’s anything but: Its 4,416-pound curb weight undercuts the Ford by about 400 pounds. And Tesla rules the public charging space, with its Supercharger network that has rivals — now with a potential infrastructure lift from the Biden administration — racing to catch up.
The Ford fires back with a sculpted exterior versus the dad-bod Model Y, a tech-savvy interior with superior materials and craftsmanship, and winning performance of its own. With 346 horsepower from dual motors, the Mach-E Premium A.W.D. that I drove shot to 60 miles an hour in 4.8 seconds. Even the new Shelby GT500 — history’s mightiest Mustang, with 760 horsepower — won’t equal the 3.5-second 0-to-60 m.p.h. blast of this summer’s Mach-E GT Performance version.
Voltswagen, as the company briefly convinced some media and car fans in a marketing stunt gone bad. Regarding historic names, VW calls the ID.4 its most significant model since the original Beetle. But where the Beetle was a revolutionary leader, the ID.4 feels like a follower.
Based on my drive, the VW can easily top its 250-mile range rating, with 275 miles within reach. A rear-drive, 201-horsepower model rolls to 60 m.p.h. in 7.6 seconds. That’s on a par with gasoline sport utilities like the Honda CR-V, but pokey by E.V. standards. Dual-motor, all-wheel-drive models arrive later this year, promising 60 m.p.h. in under six seconds.
From a company famed for fun-to-drive German cars, the ID.4’s generic performance and styling are letdowns. Its infotainment system is even more disappointing: The clunky, vexing touch screen can’t touch the onscreen wizardry of the Ford, Volvo or Tesla.
The VW’s snappiest performance came during a fast-charging session at a Target in New Jersey, replenishing its 77 kilowatt-hour battery from 20 to 80 percent in an impressive 31 minutes. That growing network of Electrify America chargers is funded by VW’s $2 billion, court-ordered penance for its diesel emissions scandal. And VW is offering indulgences to ID.4 buyers, with three years of free public charging.
Thrifty virtues include a $41,190 base price, or $33,690 after the $7,500 federal tax break. That’s $2,800 less than the most-affordable Mach-E. It’s also less money, after credits, than a smaller Chevrolet Bolt. The more powerful ID.4 with all-wheel drive will start at $37,370, postcredit.
Still, as Tesla’s triumph and Chevy’s lukewarm Bolt have proved, there’s more to electric success than an attractive price. VW is aggressively investing $80 billion to develop E.V.s, but the ID.4 feels less like a market splash and more like a toe in the water. We’ll see if VW erred by not kicking off with a recognizable design that truly connects its nostalgic, weed-hazed past to today’s green virtues: the electric ID.Buzz Microbus, due in 2023.
Volvo XC40 Recharge
Volvo seems such a natural fit for E.V.s. And the progressive-minded brand brings us the XC40 Recharge, an electrified take on its gasoline XC40.
The Recharge is like that perfect dining table in a shelter magazine: You’re not sure why it costs so much, but you want it anyway.
The Recharge’s wedgy Scandinavian styling tops every S.U.V. in this group, as does its lovely interior. That includes soft Nappa leather, versus the ascetic “vegan” materials of many E.V.s.
The drive is similarly breezy, with 402 horses and a quicksilver, 4.7-second flight to 60 m.p.h. The biggest tech talking point may be Android Automotive OS: The Recharge (and Volvo’s electric Polestar 2) introduces a cloud-based Google operating system that works like a dream, with Google Maps, search, an ultra-capable voice assistant and more. (Don’t confuse this with the ubiquitous Android Auto, which simply mirrors phone apps on a car’s screen.)
Several major automakers, including G.M. and Ford, plan to make Android Automotive the nerve centers of coming cars. If only the Volvo itself were as efficient.
The Recharge is an electron guzzler, with a 208-mile range that seems optimistic in real-world use. I drove the Recharge in frigid New York weather, which explained some but not all of its hunger for power: No matter how I babied the throttle, the Volvo stayed on a pace for 190 miles, at best, covering about 2.4 miles for each kilowatt-hour in the batteries. I can achieve 3.6 miles per kilowatt-hour with little effort in the Tesla Model Y and above 3.2 in the Ford.
Environmental Protection Agency numbers bear that out: Despite having virtually the same-size battery, the Tesla brings 326 miles of maximum range, 118 more than the Volvo. The Recharge is also expensive for its intimate size: $54,985 to start, and nearly $60,000 for the model I drove. That $7,500 federal tax break softens the blow. Yet if the Volvo indulges bourgeois buyers, they’ll also need to indulge its profligate ways.
The White House convened a meeting of business executives on Monday to discuss semiconductor supply chains amid a global chip shortage, with President Biden using the moment to pitch his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which aims in part to bolster high-tech domestic manufacturing.
“China and the rest of the world is not waiting, and there’s no reason why Americans should wait,” Mr. Biden said.
At one point, he held up a silicon wafer and declared, “This is infrastructure.”
Participants in the meeting, described by the White House as a “virtual C.E.O. summit on semiconductor and supply chain resilience,” included executives from AT&T, Ford Motor, General Motors, Google, Intel, Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. The meeting was closed to the news media, aside from a brief portion when Mr. Biden gave remarks.
The global semiconductor shortage has disrupted auto production in the United States and elsewhere, underscoring both a short-term and long-term challenge for the Biden administration with economic and national security implications.
signed an executive order directing his administration to conduct a 100-day review of supply chains for semiconductors and several other types of critical goods.
His infrastructure plan also seeks to strengthen supply chains for chips and other important products.
It includes $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing, and another $50 billion to create an office at the Commerce Department focused on the country’s industrial capacity and support for the production of critical products. It also includes $50 billion for the National Science Foundation, where Mr. Biden would create a technology directorate focused on areas like semiconductors.
Two South Korean manufacturers of electric vehicle batteries that are building plants in the United States said on Sunday that they had reached a $1.8 billion settlement in a trade secrets dispute that threatened the domestic battery supply and, with it, the Biden administration’s green agenda.
The announcement came on the day of a deadline set by the United States’ trade representative to decide whether to veto an International Trade Commission ruling in the intellectual property case between LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation. The commission’s ruling in favor of LG had threatened SK with a ban on supplying batteries in the country and put its facility under construction in Georgia at risk.
The plant, which is still under construction, will supply batteries for electric vehicles for Ford and Volkswagen, and with the settlement agreement, SK is now also free to seek business from other companies.
The dispute had threatened the domestic supply of batteries for electric vehicles. The settlement prevents delays in the development of American electric vehicles and supplies.
as DealBook reported on Friday.
“A week ago, talks between these companies had stalled and 2,600 Georgia jobs were at risk,” Mr. Ossoff said in a statement. The settlement, he said, ensures “thousands of jobs, billions in future investment, and that Georgia will be a leader in electric vehicle battery production for years to come.”
vetoed a decision by the International Trade Commission in a dispute between Apple and Samsung on public interest grounds. But such disapprovals are rare, and the settlement spared the Biden administration from having to take a position. LG is building a plant in Ohio that will supply batteries for General Motors electric vehicles, and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, also wrote to President Biden about the dispute last month, urging the president not to veto the decision, arguing that SK should not be allowed to benefit from “stolen intellectual property” against its state workers.
The trade commission’s decision would have excluded SK from the domestic American market while allowing the company to fulfill existing contracts to Ford and Volkswagen. But the plant in Commerce, Ga., is still under construction, and SK expressed hesitation on continuing to build it given that it would be unable to do additional business.
LG countered that SK had overstated its importance to the domestic battery supply and suggested that another company would purchase the plant in Georgia if SK abandoned it. But any disruption to the plans in Georgia could have been a problem for American automakers and the administration, as the international battery supply for electric vehicles is already strained and the administration’s green energy transition plans rely on expanding the use and production of electric vehicles.