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Electric automakers must brace for rising battery materials costs, Goldman says


A GM employee poses with an example of the company’s next-generation lithium metal batteries at GM Chemical and Materials Systems Lab in Warren, Michigan, September 9, 2020.

Steve Fecht | General Motors | Handout | via Reuters

BEIJING — Growing demand for electric car batteries will cause prices of the main materials to surge, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a March 18 note.

That in turn will drive prices of batteries higher by about 18%, affecting the total profit of electric car makers since the battery accounts for about 20% to 40% of the vehicle cost, the Goldman analysts said.

While the report didn’t give specific price targets for the commodities, the analysts’ model predicted a return to historical peak prices would more than double the cost of lithium for electric battery makers. That of cobalt would also double, while the cost of nickel would rise by 60%.

Limited availability of nickel suitable for car batteries could even accelerate a shift to another kind of battery called lithium iron phosphate (LFP), the report said. Tesla and Chinese start-up Xpeng are among automakers already using this type of battery, which does not use nickel or cobalt but stores relatively less energy.

If nickel prices hit their historic high of $50,000 per tonne, that could add $1,250 to $1,500 per electric vehicle, which could hurt consumer demand for the cars, the analysts said.

Ultimately, the growth of the electric car industry and demand for battery materials depends on how many vehicles people buy. The tipping point for consumers broadly to switch from gas-powered vehicles to electric cars is generally expected to come when the battery cost has fallen sufficiently.

That shift could happen in the next decade. Goldman predicts battery costs will drop below that of internal combustion engines in 2030.

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