If you haven’t lived under a stone since 2019, you’ve probably realized that virtually every major carmaker is planning to switch to “fully electric” at some point in the near future. Obviously, this will mean big changes in the way we buy and use cars, but change is hard, and not every company will want or be able to make those changes.
This no less obvious fact begs the question: who will not have time?
In another life, as a podcaster and EV enthusiast, I have completely different conversations with people than in this life, as a “guy from cars” who wants to talk about drag racing and dirty ovals. During one such conversation with a guy named Phil Gross we talked about 15 million new cars are sold in the US every year.
I already knew that figure of 15 million, so I wasn’t surprised when Phil remembered it. I. was however, I was surprised when Phil told me that there was simply not enough lithium on Earth to continue producing cars at that speed, and that North American automakers would soon face an “existential threat” (his words) when they switch to electric cars.
Phil needs to know. He’s the CEO of Snow Lake Lithium, a mining operation in Snow Lake, Manitoba, Canada, and it’s literally his job to know (or at least try it know) how much lithium there is … and he’s not very optimistic.
“Right now I can tell you exactly how much lithium is mined in North America, to ounces,” he says. “Zero,” he says with his hand, taking the point home.
Next we talked about China and South America and that they didn’t want to export lithium to the US, and about the relative advantages of hard rock extraction over lithium extraction from brine, but that’s not what kept me going.
What did the stick was this: no matter how you cut it, or where you look, lithium is not enough to ripen. If manufacturers and policymakers stick to their plans to use EV only, some brands will be pushed out of the market simply because they can’t get enough materials. Who will they be?
Impossible to know, of course. But here’s my shortlist … let’s go with the “educated assumptions”.
I want Mazda to succeed. I want a small manufacturer high quality, KaizenSports cars that have entered the electrical industry with lightweight, low- and mid-range EVs with compact batteries that charge quickly and fight off range alarms by a quiet, slightly terrifying child who whispers, “Zoom zoom.”
However, this will not happen. On the one hand, the relatively tiny Mazda does not have the cash to develop something like this on its own – and its most likely budget partners, Toyota, are the largest sustainable EVs like this.
That doesn’t mean Mazda is doomed. In fact, Mazda’s strategy seems to be to redouble its efforts to improve the internal combustion engine and focus its marketing on the markets of Southeast Asia, where the infrastructure of electric vehicles is even further than here. You can see this in its latest beautiful hybrid with a diesel engine and its 406 lb-ft. torque.
3.3 LITERS MAZDA SKYACTIV-D INLINE-SIX
Will the diesel hybrid fly to the US? Despite all the very good environmental arguments for low-cost hybrids and biodiesels, there is no possibility. The Purists of EV have won the information war, and Mazda will have to look elsewhere – perhaps in countries where they already sell diesel pickups?
If there was ever a brand that could make a compact EV with a short range that was so much fun to drive that you didn’t care about its range, then it had to be a Mazda. They didn’t, that brings us to our next big green hope: the Mini.
To be clear, the Mini already has an EV. Kind of good, judging by the driver’s seat instead of a spec sheet. It’s fun enough to make you not notice the short range most of the time (provided you have a second car for long trips), but in this world of chip shortages and supply chain blockages and a lithium demand curve that precedes the supply curve like Usain Bolt is ahead, well – me! – The parent company of Mini, BMW simply will not continue to produce Mini Coopers. Not when they could use this lithium more profitably BMW i7 or i4 M50 Gran Coupedo you know
Especially not in a vendor market that is crowded with buyers willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars above a sticker. In other words, the money is there, and the limiting factor is ensuring that every battery built goes into the most profitable car.
I could go here on a low road and say something about the Let’s Go Brandon crowd being the last of the proponents of internal combustion, but there are two problems with that. First, I don’t think it’s true (Infiniti will be the last before they roll back – more on them in a minute), and second – that Dodge will die for the same cynical reason that the Mini is likely to die: there’s more profitable brands in Stellantis ’portfolio to translate lithium into the funnel.
That is, if they do not produce a proper electric charger that has all the sweets and can sell it for Hellcat money (this is a car begins at $ 74,900). However, this is one car – and a sedan. Could it be said that the Dodge survived if its only model was a premium sedan?
No, Stelantis is smart. They will continue to steer lithium into large Ram electric trucks, high-end Jeep Wagoneers and a special edition Wrangler … and perhaps enough Chrysler crossovers to fool themselves into thinking they have a Model Y competitor.
Dodge? Like the Plymouth and Eagle brands the last time Chrysler did this, there just might not be a place for it. And that’s very bad – an inexpensive electric Neon with modern LED interior lighting would be a killer!
Corey Lewis has already done stellar work, charting Infiniti’s downward trajectory for recent yearsand I won’t do him (or you) an injustice to put my own back on it. Read his work, and then come back here and try to imagine a world where shaky Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, already under pressure from Renault’s plan to allocate its EV activities to a separate companyactually understands this correctly.
Infiniti can so easily do it right, too. The large electric Q45 with semi-active suspension and torque vector could become a great sedan that returns Infiniti to the map. Another sleek, sexy SUV coupe? The market is crowded with them, but Infiniti was one of the innovators here, and their stylists could just do some magic if they dump that silly, inspired grille Power Rangers.
Heck, dumping all the resources they can get with their mittens into their most expensive product line, allowing their players to spend in nonsense with nothing but minor cosmetic upgrades and finishes for a decade and a half, can actually be a smart move. For the first time in history, it seems to be a high-dollar enthusiast game that wins the day – and Infiniti can do it. Acura has already blown it up with its high-tech NSX hybrid monster (Was the Accord mid-engine really too much to ask for?), But Infiniti?
Infiniti will not understand. They can’t. That’s what’s left of their DNA, and Nissan doesn’t care so much to even try to save them.
[Images: Ford, Mazda, Chrysler/Stellantis]
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