Director Product Development
The question is misleading as the United States never had leadership in Lion battery manufacturing. Around 2008 the federal government used public money into subsidizing buildup of local manufacturing of large format Lion batteries. But, a market for the capacity that was built never appeared. Building plants with limited commercial market should not be considered having leadership in Lion battery manufacturing.
So, let us address the real source of the problem – lack of broad demand for electrified vehicles. Of the three national auto manufacturers, (GM, Ford, Chrysler and Tesla) only Tesla created a vision of an advanced electric vehicle and relentlessly pursued it as others declared its eventual failure. Tesla now sells more electric vehicles than GM, Ford and Chrysler combined. Meanwhile GM, Ford and Chrysler continue to create business strategies (that change every few years) to grow their electrified vehicle options.
Toyota’s story is another example of the difference between a vision and a business strategy. Toyota chose to introduce the Prius to the U.S. – they lost money in the early years but like Tesla, their perseverance to stick with their vision led them to having the largest volume of electrified vehicles on the road. In that same early time period GM EV-1 may have crossed paths with Toyota’s Prius, but GM didn’t have a vision for a future in electrification and scrapped the EV-1. Now, GM is back where it was some 20+ years ago creating a business strategy for electrification as it shuts down the Volt production (and maybe eventually the Bolt?) and so GM continues its search for a future.
Demand is also a function of where products that use batteries are assembled. Since consumer electronics are primarily produced in Asia, a large portion of the supply chain (which includes battery manufacturers) have located themselves in that region. The major customer base for electrified vehicles is Asia (specifically China) and that is where the battery manufacturers and others in the supply chain are located. The EU is also a growing market for electrified vehicles and now we are seeing a lot of greenfield investment by battery manufacturers and others in the supply chain.
Increasing funding in the U.S. for Lion Battery economy will not create demand. Why not support the Pb-Acid industry? The Pb-Acid industry has a strong established local supply chain and both local and international demand. Why no support advanced Pb-Acid technology, like Bipolar? U.S. companies are established leaders in Bipolar technology. And, the Pb-Acid industry is a circular economy.
Back to the Question:
What Should the United States Do to “Regain” Leadership in Lithium-Ion Battery Manufacturing? The superficial answer is create demand. The harder and deeper solution is establishing policy that creates demand by increasing the price of gasoline, increasing gas mileage requirements and tightening exhaust emission requirements. Or automakers can learn from Tesla create a vision and design vehicles that consumers will stand in line for.