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Morgan Stanley warns that nickel price surge could add $1k to electric vehicle costs

(Credit: BHP)

With electric vehicles becoming more prolific, raw materials used in battery packs have become hot commodities. And according to Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, the rising price of one particular material — nickel — could result in general electric vehicle prices seeing a $1,000 price increase. 

Nickel has seen a rapid rise as of late, with the material surging above $100,000 a metric ton on the London Metal Exchange. This prompted a trading halt. Several reasons are behind nickel’s price surge, which saw the material go up 250% in the past two days, though it is believed that a driving factor is Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. 

Since Russia is one of the most prolific producers of nickel, potential sanctions for the material could result in nickel supply being limited to Western suppliers and manufacturers. Jonas, in his note, stated that Morgan Stanley has been predicting a nickel shortfall by 2026 that would keep rising until the end of the decade, and that was before Russia opted to attack Ukraine. 

If sanctions against Russian nickel are indeed implemented, Jonas noted it’s “probably time for investors to take auto company earnings forecasts down.” Following Russia, after all, Indonesia stands as the biggest source of nickel, but the country is still in the process of ramping its production of the material. Other notable nickel mines are also expected to enter operations years from now. 

Considering the demand for electric vehicles and automakers’ own EV targets, one could imagine just how much nickel is needed. Tesla delivered more than 900,000 vehicles last year, and the company intends to keep an annual growth of 50%. Ford wants to make 2 million electric vehicles by 2026, GM is looking to sell 1 million EVs by mid-decade, and Stellantis intends to sell 5 million electric cars by the end of 2030. That’s a lot of electric cars, a good number of which would likely need nickel. 

The Morgan Stanley analyst, for his part, noted that electric car makers like Tesla and Ford could explore battery technologies that use no nickel. Tesla is already doing this with its vehicles that are equipped with lithium iron phosphate batteries (LFP) batteries. Granted, such batteries are best used for entry-level cars like the base Model 3, but they do allow companies like Tesla to produce EVs at scale without relying on nickel. It remains to be seen if companies such as Ford and GM would adopt similar strategies when they roll out their planned mass-market EVs. 

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Morgan Stanley warns that nickel price surge could add $1k to electric vehicle costs
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