No matter how many Super Bowl commercials you run about your EV lineup, no matter how much you talk about your EV leadership, you can only sell as many EVs as you have batteries lined up for. That seems simple enough, right? The thing is, there’s a supply crunch not just for batteries, but also for the stuff that goes into the batteries, most famously lithium. That supply crunch is only expected to grow in the coming decade.
A few years ago, in interviews about the EV revolution, battery experts started ringing alarm bells for us. They emphasized that there could be no disruptive, exponential EV adoption curve if there wasn’t much more movement in the lithium extraction and processing space. The key problem: it takes years to develop a lithium mine; no automakers were going to lock in orders for batteries or for battery supplies 7–10 years ahead of time; and without locked-in orders, greatly expanding lithium extraction and processing was going to have to wait. It was a conundrum. The plea was thus: automakers, invest in mines, or lock in orders with mining companies. GM got the memo.
The latest news from GM is that it has signed a deal with Lithium Americas to get lithium sourced from the United States — a $650 million deal. They are investing together in the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada, with GM putting a $650 million equity investment into the lithium firm. If that name rings a bell, it’s probably because Thacker Pass is “the largest known source of lithium in the United States and the third largest in the world.” Hello, EV revolution!
According to GM, this is “the largest-ever investment by an automaker to produce battery raw materials.” That’s something.
“The agreement with GM is a major milestone in moving Thacker Pass toward production, while setting a foundation for the separation of our U.S. and Argentine businesses,” said Lithium Americas President and CEO Jonathan Evans. “This relationship underscores our commitment to develop a sustainable domestic lithium supply chain for electric vehicles. We are pleased to have GM as our largest investor, and we look forward to working together to accelerate the energy transition while spurring job creation and economic growth in America.”
But, wait, I’m not a lithiumologist, how much lithium is that and what does it mean as far as cars go? According to Lithium Americas (bona fide lithiumologists), GM is investing enough money here for the lithium needed for 1 million electric vehicles a year. GM had 2,273,942 vehicle sales in 2022. With this Thacker Pass investment, in theory, GM’s almost halfway to converting its US new-vehicle fleet to 100% electric. Furthermore, it could well be getting lithium from elsewhere as well — not only from Thacker Pass. As far as the basic timeline for Thacker Pass, lithium production is supposed to start there in the second half of 2026.
“GM has secured all the battery material we need to build more than 1 million EVs annually in North America in 2025 and our future production will increasingly draw from domestic resources like the site in Nevada we’re developing with Lithium Americas,” said GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra. “Direct sourcing critical EV raw materials and components from suppliers in North America and free-trade-agreement countries helps make our supply chain more secure, helps us manage cell costs, and creates jobs.”
As far as the batteries themselves, those will be built by GM. “Lithium carbonate from Thacker Pass will be used in GM’s proprietary Ultium battery cells,” the Michigan-based automaker writes. “GM is launching a broad portfolio of trucks, SUVs, luxury vehicles and light commercial vehicles using the Ultium Platform, including the GMC HUMMER EV Pickup and SUV, GMC Sierra EV, Cadillac LYRIQ, Cadillac CELESTIQ, Chevrolet Silverado EV, Chevrolet Blazer EV, Chevrolet Equinox EV, BrightDrop Zevo 400 and BrightDrop Zevo 600.”
The companies estimate that 1,000 construction jobs and 500 operational jobs will be created by this new Lithium Americas Thacker Pass development, while 6,000 construction jobs and 5,000 operational jobs are expected for the first three (of four) Ultium Cells factories. “GM is currently building EVs in two Michigan plants, one Tennessee plant and one Ontario plant, and its suppliers are investing to create a robust North America-focused supply chain for EV raw materials, processed material and components, with major projects under way in California, Texas, Ohio and Quebec.”
This is the “Green Economy” President Obama touted 15 years ago. It’s a core of the US manufacturing resurgence President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress have been fighting for as part of the cleantech revolution. And it keeps US companies and the USA as a whole from becoming too dependent on foreign entities. This is leadership the United States has been needing.