As new models of high-performance, innovative and more efficient American cars debut at auto shows across the country, the future of the U.S. auto industry looks bright. Yet the companies developing these next-generation vehicles are increasingly concerned about their ability to procure the materials vital to every car on the road: minerals.
From iron used in auto body frames to molybdenum in airbags and lithium in hybrid vehicle batteries, a growing variety and quantity of minerals is fundamental to the future of the auto industry. Last year, carmakers used $7 billion worth of platinum to develop catalytic converters, a vehicle’s primary device to lower emissions. Aluminum—a strong, lightweight metal—is being used in the design of lighter vehicle bodies that contribute to fuel efficiency. For every 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight, a 6 to 7 percent improvement in fuel economy is realized, which means less fuel consumption and lower emissions.
But 73 percent of chief executive officers (CEOs) in the automotive industry revealed that their businesses face minerals and metals scarcity, according to a 2011 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study. Contributing to the procurement challenges faced by manufacturers is the fact that, despite the central role minerals play in technological advancements, the United States lacks a comprehensive minerals policy. An outdated and inefficient permitting process is effectively locking much-needed minerals in the ground and out of the hands of high-tech innovators. As a result, U.S. companies currently rely on foreign imports for more than half of their mineral needs. This means they’re often faced with unstable supply chains, regardless of the more than $6.2 trillion worth of minerals located right here in the U.S.
By Hal Quinn