Emmanuel Brousse
Focus | 24 mai
The walk, the tone, the speech focusing on “tomorrow’s revolution”… Although Elon Musk hates Steve Jobs and does not have his round glasses, his turtled-neck or his stubble, for all the rest, the similarities are striking when Tesla’s CEO presents his vision of the future.
Like the former Apple boss, Elon Musk is not the kind of men who satisfies himself with business. His true goal is to change the world through technology. With SpaceX, he intends to deeply transform the rules of space race. And with Tesla, he hopes to toggle the world into the electric car era.
It is too soon to tell if Elon Musk will win his bet. Tesla’s first model had a resounding success but the firm is not profitable and deliveries are constantly delayed. The car market’s specialists estimate that Tesla’s fate will probably be determined by the success of its “Model 3”, the constructor’s first general public car.
But whether Elon Musk’s firm manages in a few years to go from Nevada’s dust to world leader or, on the contrary, disappears as quickly as it appeared, one thing is certain: the electric car turn has come. Following Tesla’s path, all major constructors have accelerated in this direction and are announcing electric models for the coming years.
This big turn to electric will shake up the world’s urban and industrial landscape, but also geopolitics. Gas stations and oil tanks will be replaced by electric sockets capable of recharging a vehicle’s batteries in a few minutes, like the ones Tesla started installing. In the United Sates, in Asia, and in Europe, there would already be 617 stations provided with 3652 “superchargers”.

A long set of “gigafactories”

Before recharging millions of batteries on an assembly line, one has to produce them. The lithium-ion battery technology is not new: from cellphones to cameras, they already equip many daily-life devices.
But the size and power of car batteries require huge construction sites. A publicity stunt as much as an economic bet, the famous “Gigafactory” which Tesla plans on opening in 2017 in Nevada (and in which Panasonic already invested over ten million dollars) will only be the first of a long set. In order to renew the global car fleet and to reign over the batteries market, they will have to produce fast and as cheap as possible. If Tesla can afford implanting its first firm in the United-States, for the others, the cost fight will be brutal between Africa, India and China to know which country or continent will have the privilege of welcoming the huge complexes where the batteries which will spread over the planet will surge.
 © Caroline Bittner

Lithium’s Qatar

The other big transformation will affect raw materials. The massive democratization of electric vehicles itself will not mean the death of oil industry but it will fatally damage it. Oil giants will have to adapt, diversify, or disappear in a crisis that seems unavoidable.
Besides, the explosion of demand in batteries will trigger a lithium rush. This rare metal is mainly found in a few regions of the world, notably the salted lakes triangle between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia represents itself 30% of the world’s identified reserves and the Bolloré group already keeps an eye on this treasure that the Bolivian state intends to use to support the country’s finances for many years. Other industrials multiply the soundings to have access to new reserves. Not a month passes by without someone discovering a new deposit. Extraction projects are booming in Canada, in China, in Russia, in Nevada.
In a foreseeable future, the Salar de Uyuni will become one of the epicenters of the global mining industry. But “Lithium’s Qatar” Bolivia, dreamt by its politicians, is not for today. In the meantime, they can always contemplate the cactuses breaking away on the huge salted lake’s whiteness.
Crédits photo : Pluris, DR, Caroline Bittner
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