May 23, 2022 - Energy & Environment

U.S. playing catch-up on electric vehicles

Distribution of select EV and battery supply chains
Data: Global EV Outlook 2022; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

President Biden took a victory lap in South Korea over Hyundai's big U.S. new electric vehicle investments, but fresh analysis shows how far the U.S. lags behind in the global EV supply chain competition.

Driving the news: "Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs, and they’re good for business," Biden said in Seoul Sunday alongside Hyundai chairman Euisun Chung.

  • Biden's remarks came two days after Hyundai unveiled $5.4 billion plans to build EVs and batteries in Georgia.

The big picture: The South Korean auto giant is the latest of many automakers and battery producers to unveil U.S. investments recently.

  • General Motors in January announced a multibillion-dollar plan to build battery cells and electric pickups in Michigan, one of several states where it's boosting capacity.
  • Ford, SK Innovation, Rivian, Stellantis, Toyota and others are developing large battery and EV manufacturing projects.

Yes, but: An International Energy Agency report Monday morning starkly captures something Axios' Joann Muller recently explored: The U.S. is playing catch-up behind China and Europe.

  • The chart above offers key parts of a more granular IEA analysis of the global supply chain — spanning raw materials, processing, manufacturing and more — for batteries and EVs.

What we're watching: How that chart will look in 5, 10 and 15 years — and how U.S. policy affects it.

  • The Energy Department is offering new funding via the bipartisan infrastructure law to boost U.S. battery and component manufacturing and recycling.
  • The administration has also set aggressive EV deployment targets, but a key policy goal — a huge expansion of buyer subsidies — has stalled in Congress.

The bottom line: Cars with plugs and the batteries that run them are becoming a major 21st-century industry — and a tool against global warming. But which nations will benefit the most is up for grabs.

EV growth and headwinds

Number of available electric car models globally
Data: Global EV Outlook 2022; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Global electric car sales reached 2 million in the first quarter of 2022, up 75% from the same stretch in 2021, the new IEA report shows.

Why it matters: EV sales had already doubled in 2021 over the prior year, capturing about 10% of the new vehicle market, the report points out.

  • While they remain a tiny share of the global fleet, 2021 sales boosted the total number of EVs on global roads to 16.5 million at year's end, and that's rising significantly higher this year.

Yes, but: Growth still lags what's envisioned in IEA's hypothetical pathway to net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050.

  • And the commodity cost surge is putting upward pressure on battery prices after years of declines.

Read the report.

Go deeper