When BMW AG revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600. Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day.
For carmakers vying to fill their fleets with electric vehicles, the spike has been a rude awakening as to how much their success is riding on the scarce silvery-blue mineral found predominantly in one of the world’s most corrupt and underdeveloped countries.
“It’s gotten more hectic over the past year,” said Markus Duesmann, BMW’s head of procurement, who’s responsible for securing raw materials used in lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, manganese and nickel. “We need to keep a close eye, especially on lithium and cobalt, because of the danger of supply scarcity.”
Like its competitors, BMW is angling for the lead in the biggest revolution in automobile transport since the invention of the internal combustion engine, with plans for 12 battery-powered models by 2025. What executives such as Duesmann hadn’t envisioned even two years ago, though, was that they’d suddenly need to become experts in metals prospecting.
Automakers are ﬁnding themselves in unfamiliar—and uncomfortable—terrain, where miners such as Glencore Plc and China Molybdenum Co. for the ﬁrst time have all the bargaining power to dictate supplies.
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