Ford is quickening its pace towards the mass production of electric vehicles (EVs) and is researching how the mining industry can help it achieve its goals.
“There are tremendous investments taking place at every level to achieve this radical revolution in the automotive industry,” Ford energy storage, strategy and research senior manager Ted Miller told delegates at the Investing in African Mining Indaba, in Cape Town.
He added that Ford and its competitors had made significant investments and expected suppliers to do the same.
“Everyone is committed but we are finding that we have to take this to further levels of engagement. We've had ongoing discussions with suppliers of raw materials, processed material and even mining sources to ensure that customers ultimately get the vehicles they need in future.
“We have a five to ten year runway for EVs to start coming out of production in the right volumes. We finally have the confidence to make the investments. Until recently, there has not been enough scale to make investments.”
Miller said the company was working with material producers.
“We haven’t got to the point where we need to have specific offtake agreements with a mine, but we are talking about that with our Tier 1 suppliers. It may be something we re-evaluate.”
Miller said Ford and the automotive industry had been working on getting the right concentration of minerals, given the potential scale of EVs.
The prospects of cobalt are not as high as originally planned.
“We started with one-third cobalt content, and then quickly moved to 20% cobalt content. Now it’s 10% or even lower. We are trying to reduce our dependence on one single material.”
The prospects of nickel, in particular, as well as manganese, are rising.
“We are increasing our nickel dependence. What we have done is to reduce dependence on cobalt and substitute nickel and manganese in the process for alternative transition metals,” said Miller, who added that Ford was working with IBM and several partners on the responsible sourcing of minerals.
Miller expects the next horizon of EVs to radically transform the industry.
“Internal combustion engines have improved over the last 100 years, but we are reaching the limits of improving efficiency. Now we need to move to EVs, where we have more freedom and flexibility using renewable sources of energy.”
Miller said there was a significant amount of policy harmonisation in Europe and China, on moving towards lower carbon dioxide input from vehicles, although less so in the US.
“We are seeing dramatic changes up until 2025, and then further significant shifts to 2030, and out to 2050.”
Already there is discussion about internal combustion engines being banned in some congested city centres and enlarged megacities. Fully electric vehicles would be required in these areas, said Miller.
“We see it coming. It is pushing us.” But Miller said government regulations alone on the output of carbon dioxide were not enough to drive customers to EVs.
“We need to, individually, as automobile makers offer competitive products. We need customers to recognise the value, and we are starting to see that.”
Ford has also been focusing on sustainability in other ways. Miller said the company had changed its painting process, dramatically reduced its use of water and has separate recycling streams for materials.