EV transition stalls despite government mandates and billion-dollar handouts

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Appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, May 22, 2024
EV transition stalls despite government mandates and billion-dollar handouts

Both Canada and the United States have set ambitious mandates to accelerate the transition from combustion vehicles to zero-emission vehicles. According to the Trudeau government, all new passenger vehicles and light trucks sold in Canada must be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, with interim targets of 20 per cent by 2026 and 60 per cent by 2030. Similarly, the Biden administration has mandated that two-thirds of new vehicles sold in the U.S. must be electric by 2032. But despite massive taxpayer-funded subsidies for the electric vehicle (EV) sector, storm clouds are growing for the industry.

In April, Tesla laid off 10 per cent of its global workforce as it grapples with slow EV demand and falling sales. Similarly, Ford recently announced it would delay the start of EV production at the Oakville, Ontario plant by two years to let the consumer market develop and allow for further development of EV battery technology. Car rental giant Hertz earlier this year announced plans to sell one-third of its U.S. electric vehicle fleet and reinvest in gas-powered cars due to high repair costs and weak demand for its battery-powered cars. General Motors has abandoned the goal of producing 400,000 EVs by mid-2024 due to lower-than-expected sales.

The sluggish demand for EVs and the response from automakers should raise red flags for both the Trudeau government and Biden administration, given the massive subsidies (a.k.a. corporate welfare) injected into the EV and battery production industry. For instance, in Ontario, the Trudeau government and the Ford government have given $28.2 billion to the Stellantis EV battery plant in Windsor and the Volkswagen plant in St. Thomas. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it will take 20 years for the federal and Ontario governments to break even on the $28 billion pledged for those two plants. And this doesn’t include the $5 billion subsidy to Honda for a new EV manufacturing plant in the province.

Similarly, in Quebec, federal and provincial governments have pledged to spend $2.7 billion in subsidies for a new EV battery manufacturing plant  and give $644 million to help Ford build a plant to produce EV battery materials.

But in reality, the EV transition faces major hurdles despite the massive amounts of taxpayer money being thrown at the industry.

Firstly, we lack adequate power grid infrastructure to meet the electricity demands of EV mandates. According to a recent study, meeting Canada's EV mandate by 2035 could increase electricity demand by up to 15.3 per cent nationwide, necessitating substantial investments in new generation capacity and transmission infrastructure. Specifically, Canada would need to construct 10 new mega hydroelectric dams, comparable to British Columbia’s Site C, or alternatively, 13 new gas plants of 500-megawatt (MW) capacity to accommodate the surge in electricity demand from EVs.

Yet the timelines and costs associated with such projects are daunting. Drawing from recent experience with B.C.’s Site C dam, it took more than a decade to plan and comply with environmental regulations and approximately another decade to construct. To date, Site C, which remains under construction, is expected to cost $16 billion.

Secondly, there’s a shortage of mineral supply for EV batteries, with projections indicating the need for numerous new mines to meet EV adoption mandates. According to a recent study, to meet international EV adoption mandates (including mandates in Canada and the U.S.) by 2030, the world would need 50 new lithium mines, 60 new nickel mines, 17 new cobalt mines, 50 new mines for cathode production, 40 new mines for anode materials, 90 new mines for battery cells, and 81 new mines for EV bodies and motors, for a total of 388 new mines worldwide. For context, in 2021 there were only 340 metal mines operating in Canada and the U.S.

Historically, the development of mining and refining facilities has been sluggish. Production timelines range from six to nine years for lithium and 13 to 18 years for nickel—two elements critical for EV batteries. The aggressive government timelines for EV adoption clash with historically sluggish metal and mineral production, raising the risk of EV manufacturers falling short of needed minerals.

The EV transition faces major obstacles, and the recent scaling back or delays in EV production by automakers should serve as a warning to governments about the feasibility of their forced transition policies, which clearly put Canadian taxpayers at risk.

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