Who Will Win the Age of Battery Nationalism?
Ford’s announcement signals a late U.S. bid to compete head-to-head with Europe and China
For Ford, the fear of a Kodak moment came January 28, when Mary Barra, CEO of rival General Motors, announced that as of 2035, her company aimed to be making only electric vehicles (EVs) for the consumer market. GM would continue to manufacture a heavy pickup or two with gasoline engines. But for GM, Barra said, the age of combustion was effectively over.
Exactly a week later, Ford CEO Jim Farley — who took the helm of the decidedly EV-skeptical company in October — announced he will double spending to develop EVs and autonomous vehicles. In remarks yesterday, Farley made clear he wasn’t going to watch Ford go the way of Kodak, swamped and made obsolete by new technology.
To be sure, Barra was herself making the same calculation, as have VW, BMW, and virtually every major automaker in the world — all diving into EVs under the threat of being eclipsed by Tesla and the electrification of the automobile industry.
But in recent months, the competition has much more clearly become geopolitical. In a nascent age of EV and battery nationalism, Europe is aggressively building a lithium-ion battery manufacturing industry alongside a slew of coming EVs. With Brexit now in force, the U.K. is competing with its own coming factory. China has been the most forceful of any combatant nation, putting the entirety of its formidable state and corporate resources behind a determined effort to dominate EVs, from the mines to the vast supply chain of parts companies to batteries and the vehicles themselves.
Notice of a U.S. intention to fight has come in a flurry over the last two weeks: On January 25, President Joe Biden gave the first signal, announcing a massive boost to the EV industry, saying he would replace the federal government’s fleet of 645,000 combustion vehicles with EVs and renew the $7,500 federal EV rebate that had expired for GM and Tesla because they had reached the sales threshold. Biden has also said the government will build 500,000 charging points around the country, a key requirement if a mass EV market is to develop.