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Tesla is the premium entry in the electric car market, with a starting price of $75,000. According to the Wall Street Journal, the high-end “Signature” model costs $132,000, slightly more than the base price for Porsche’s AG’s 911 GT3.
Even with a $7,500 federal tax credit, an assortment of state tax credits, and $10,000 in fuel saving over five years, the driver’s investment is over $110,000 – far beyond the reach of the average family.
However, Tesla’s luxury styling and impressive performance give high-end buyers the best of both worlds – luxury transportation and the satisfaction of environmental stewardship. In that light, it might surprise some that Tesla’s success depends, in large part, on lithium mining.
Tesla cars are made of carbon fiber and powered by racks of lithium-ion batteries. Strong, light, and cost-efficient, carbon fiber is being used increasingly by commercial airplane manufacturers. On board Boeing’s 787, the batteries are lithium-ion as well.
Like Boeing and Airbus, auto manufacturers are under economic and regulatory pressure to produce more fuel-efficient products.
In 2012, the Obama Administration implemented CAFÉ (Corporate Auto Fuel Efficiency) standards that require automakers to manufacture cars that get 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016. The standard ratchets up to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The real goal is to replace gas and diesel car engines with electric motors.
The key to achieving that goal is to reduce the vehicle’s weight. Two of the best ways to accomplish that are to substitute carbon fiber for metal and replace heavier traditional heavier batteries with the more costly lightweight lithium-ion types.
The advantages of carbon fiber are sparking huge investments in the technology.
Tesla is building a $5 billion battery factory near the lithium mines in northern Nevada in hopes of reducing battery costs by at least 30 percent as it plans to ramp up production to 55,000 cars this year.
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