Tesla hit by battery shortage amid rallying lithium, cobalt, nickel prices

Image: Steve Jurvetson CC

In a call to investors following disappointing financial results released Wednesday, CEO Elon Musk says Tesla doesn’t have enough cells to put new products like Semi truck into production. 

“Prototypes are easy. Scaling production is very hard. 

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products like the Tesla Semi is that we simply don’t have enough cells built. We could easily go into the production of the Semi, but we don’t have enough cells for it right now.”  

Musk said while the Semi does not cost five times more than a passenger car it does require five times the number of cells, which means the company will focus on producing cars until it could bring its own battery technology, announced last year, into production:

“Historically, price rises that occur in China are usually experienced in the rest of the world three to six months months later”

“We’ve been very clear with our cell suppliers, whether it be CATL or Panasonic or LG that we will take as many batteries as they can produce.”

After a year that may be in time seen as the tipping point for electric vehicle adoption, the price of battery raw materials began to rally sharply in December.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence said in a recent note price data it collected in December 2020 show increases for lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite, driven largely by the Chinese market.

Prices for lithium carbonate at the factory gate jumped by just under 13%, while ex-works cobalt sulphate and nickel sulphate increased by 3.2% and 6.4% respectively. Graphite (-100, 90-93% C, FOB China) climbed by 13.2%.

Benchmark’s Managing Director, Simon Moores said “for this suite of battery raw materials, China acts as an early warning system for the rest of the world.”

“Historically, price rises that occur in China are usually experienced in the rest of the world three to six months months later.”


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