General

These Brands Won’t Make It in the US (As EVs)

Ford

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2019, you’ve probably realized that just about every major automaker has plans to go “all-electric” at some point in the rapidly approaching future. Of course, that means big changes in the way we buy and use cars, but change is difficult and not every company will be willing or able to make those changes.

That equally obvious fact begs the question: Who’s not going to make it?

In my other life as a podcaster and EV enthusiast, I have very different conversations with people than in this life as a “car guy” who wants to talk about drag racing and dirt ovals. During one of those conversations with a man named Phil Gross, we talked about the about 15 million new cars sold in the US every year.

I already knew that number of 15 million, so I wasn’t surprised when Phil brought it up. l used to be was surprised, however, when Phil told me that there simply isn’t enough lithium on Earth to continue producing cars at that rate and that North American automakers would soon face “an existential threat” (his words) if they switch to EVs .

Phil should know. He’s the CEO of Snow Lake Lithium, a hard-rock mining operation in Snow Lake, Manitoba, Canada, and it’s literally his job to know (or at least, to attempt to know) exactly how much lithium there is… and he’s not very optimistic.

“Right now I can tell you exactly how much lithium is mined in North America, down to the ounce,” he says. “Zero”, he makes an “O” with his hand, bringing the point home.

We went on to talk about China and South America and how they didn’t want to export lithium to the US, and the relative benefits of mining freestone versus extracting lithium from brine solutions, but that’s not what stuck with me.

What did stick was this: however you cut it or where you look for it, there isn’t enough lithium to keep up. If the manufacturers and politicians stick to their EV-only plans, some brands will be pushed out of the market simply because they can’t get enough materials. Who will they be?

It is of course impossible to know. But here’s my shortlist of… let’s go with “educated guesses”.

MAZDAI

I want Mazda to succeed. I want the sloppy little maker of high-quality, Kaizen-infused sports cars to reach the electric future with lightweight, low-midrange EVs with compact batteries that charge fast and combat range fear with a hushed, slightly creepy child whispering, “Zoom zoom.”

However, that’s not going to happen. For starters, the relatively small Mazda doesn’t have the money on hand to develop something like that itself — and its most likely big-budget partners, Toyota, are the biggest EV holdouts as it is.

That’s not to say Mazda is doomed to failure. In fact, Mazda’s strategy appears to be to redouble its efforts to perfect the internal combustion engine and focus its marketing on Southeast Asian markets where the electric vehicle infrastructure is even further away than here. You can tell by its latest excellent hybrid diesel engine and its 406 lb-ft. of couple.

3.3 LITER MAZDA SKYACTIV-D INLINE-SIX

Mazda

Will a diesel hybrid fly in the US? Despite all the very good environmental arguments for cheap hybrids and biodiesels, there is no way. The EV purists have won the information war and Mazda will have to look elsewhere – perhaps in countries where they already sell diesel pickup trucks?

MINI

If ever there was a brand that could make a short-haul compact electric car that was so fun to drive you didn’t care, it would have been Mazda. They didn’t, which brings us to our next big green hope: Mini.

To be clear, Mini already has an EV. Kind of a good one, if you judge it from the driver’s seat rather than a spec sheet. It’s nice enough to usually overlook the short range (assuming you have a second car to take longer trips with), but in this world of chip shortages and supply chain blockages and a demand curve for lithium that supply curve outpacing as Usain Bolt passes, well – me! – Mini’s parent company BMW just won’t keep making Mini Coopers. Not when they could use that lithium in a more profitable BMW i7 or i4 M50 Gran Coupeyou know?

Especially not in a seller’s market full of buyers willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars above the sticker. The money is there, in other words, and the limiting factor will be making every built-in battery go into the most profitable vehicle possible.

SMARTNESS

I could take the low road here and say something about how the “Let’s Go Brandon” crowd will be the absolute last of the internal combustion holdouts, but there are two problems with that. The first is that I don’t really think that’s true (Infiniti will be the last, before they fold – more on them in a minute), and the second is that Dodge will die for the same cynical reason that Mini will probably die: there are more profitable brands in Stellantis’ portfolio to lead lithium into.

Unless they build a good electric charger loaded with all the fast goodies and sell it for Hellcat money (that car begins for $74,900). Still, that’s one car – and then another sedan. Could you really say that Dodge survived if its only model was a premium sedan?

No, Stellantis is smart. They will continue to funnel lithium into big electric Ram trucks, high-end Jeep Wagoneers and special edition Wranglers…and maybe just enough Chrysler crossovers to fool themselves into thinking they have a Model Y competitor.

Chrysler

clever thing? Like the Plymouth and Eagle brands, the last time Chrysler did this, there may not be room for them anymore. And that’s a shame – a cheap electric Neon with modern LED interior lighting would be great!

INFINITIA

Corey Lewis has done a fantastic job charting Infiniti’s downward trajectory over the past few years, and I won’t do him (or you) the wrong by putting my own spin on it. Go read his piece, then come back here and try to imagine a world where the rarefied Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, already under pressure from Renault’s plan to spin off its EV business into a separate companyactually understands.

Infiniti could do it right so easily too. A big, electric Q45 with semi-active suspension and torque vectoring could be the big sedan that puts Infiniti back on the map. Another sly, sexy SUV coupe? The market is full of them, but Infiniti was one of the innovators here, and their stylists just might make some magic happen if they drop that goofy, Power Rangers-inspired grille.

Heck, dumping all the resources they can get into their most expensive product line, while letting their volume players languish in irrelevance with nothing but minor cosmetic and trim updates for a decade and a half, might actually be the smart move. For the first time in history, it looks like the high-dollar enthusiast game will win the day — and Infiniti could pull it off. Acura already screwed up with their high-tech NSX hybrid monstrosity (Was a mid-engine Accord really too much to ask?), but Infiniti?

Infiniti won’t do well. They can’t. It’s in what’s left of their DNA, and Nissan doesn’t care enough to even try to save them.

[Images: Ford, Mazda, Chrysler/Stellantis]

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