When Tesla held its socially distanced “battery day” last month at an outdoor parking lot in California, it invited executives from the two big US lithium companies, Livent and Albemarle.
As they sat in their allotted Model 3s watching Elon Musk on their in-car screens, he dropped a bombshell: the electric car maker was becoming a competitor.
Tesla, Mr Musk said, had acquired the rights to a 10,000-acre plot in Nevada where it planned to extract the metal using simple table salt, and would build a lithium refinery to supply a new factory in Texas. The next day Albemarle and Livent lost a combined $1.7bn in market value as their share prices plunged.
But industry insiders and observers remain sceptical that the car group can pose a serious competitive threat to established lithium producers. They say Tesla’s plan is unlikely to bear fruit for years and is instead designed to put pressure on the industry, which is dominated by five companies, to ramp up production.
“He’s put the cat among the pigeons,” said Simon Moores, managing director at consultancy Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
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