Britain’s electric car revolution is being hampered by a “bottleneck” in global battery production, as demand far outstrips supply of zero-emission vehicles.
An investigation by the Press Association found that some dealers were telling customers they could be waiting more than a year if they placed an order for an electric vehicle (EV) today, with some manufacturers confirming they couldn’t guarantee the number of vehicles coming to the UK in the future.
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A Kia spokesperson blamed global demand and battery supply, calling the e-Niro “a victim of its own success” and adding that the South Korean firm’s 2019 UK allocation of about 800 cars sold out within two weeks of going on sale in January.
He said: “The simple fact is our battery suppliers cannot make battery packs quickly enough for the demand, and if we haven’t got battery packs, we cannot sell the cars.”
Both Kia and its sister company Hyundai said they were taking reservations for 2020 deliveries and would interested customers once pricing and delivery time frames were clearer.
Suppliers can’t make electric car batteries fast enough
Simon Moores, managing director of lithium-ion battery specialist Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, confirmed there was a bottleneck in the production of the high-quality batteries needed for electric vehicles.
He said: “Not all lithium-ion batteries can be used in all electric vehicles. There are quality and scale issues at play, and they don’t usually go hand in hand.
“Western EV makers need the highest-quality lithium-ion batteries for a multitude of reasons, including safety, range and longevity. The surge in EV demand in the past two years has meant that tier one battery producers – such as Panasonic and Tesla, LG Chem and Samsung SDI – are playing catch-up.
“Global capacity of tier one lithium-ion battery supply is still an issue, but we are seeing a shortage in the quality and quantity of key raw materials, especially graphite anode at present.”
Tom Callow, director of communication at EV charge point supplier BP Chargemaster, said supply delays should become less of an issue in 2020 as new EU emissions targets applying to manufacturers come in.
“We are undoubtedly seeing demand outstrip supply for electric vehicles in the UK at the moment,” he said.
Waiting times vary by manufacturer
Elsewhere in the market, Volkswagen confirmed wait times for the e-Golf were nearly four months. The e-Up, however, remains unavailable to order because of long wait times, but should return “later in the year”.
In 2018, the German manufacturer stopped taking orders for the Passat GTE and Golf GTE plug-in hybrids because “unprecedented demand” had put factories at full capacity. The electrified Golf remains on hold, while a new Passat GTE goes on sale soon.
A Renault dealer quoted wait times of up to five months for the Zoe, but a spokesperson for the manufacturer disputed it, saying it would expect a new order, even with “a very particular specification”, to be delivered within two months. Meanwhile, the Twizy remains unavailable for order while production moves to a new factory.
The typical wait time for an electric car appears to be about three months – quoted for cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Audi e-tron quattro, Jaguar I-Pace and BMW i3. However, this can vary on a dealer-by-dealer basis depending on how vehicles and production slots are allocated by each manufacturer.
A Nissan representative said: “We are seeing very strong demand for both the Leaf and e-NV200, and we continue to try and secure production allocations that match our customer demand.
“However, across Europe and globally there is also strong demand. For Leaf we have reasonable supply but, depending on variant, the lead time will vary.”
A BMW spokesman said “production and delivery times can vary” because the company offers “a range of built-to-order options in order to make their vehicle truly their own”. However, lead times for the i3 “are in line with expectations for a build-to-order BMW”.
This week, Tesla opened its UK configurator for the Model 3 – the firm’s new entry-level EV. It claims deliveries should be less than two months from an order being placed, however, UK customers who placed deposits when the car was first revealed have been waiting three years for right-hand drive models to become available.
Tesla says deliveries of the Model S and Model X could take up to three months, and estimated delivery times are shown on the company’s website.
A Tesla spokesperson added that because the cars are built in the US, it factors in a transit time of “around six to eight weeks”.
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