New leadership proposed at Gigafactory, lithium refinery

Shares of Tesla ( TSLA ) are up more than 2% in midday trading today and up nearly 10% for the week. Here are two big stories driving the shares today:

Tesla Shuffles Giga Nevada Staff, Reveals New Data

In audio from a Thursday meeting leaked by CNBC, Tesla revealed that it has reshuffled leadership at its Gigafactory in Nevada, where it makes motors and batteries for its various operations, and noted some production figures.

The audio revealed that Chris Lister, former VP of Gigafactory Operations, has left the company and has been replaced by Hrushikesh “Hrushi” Sagar, who will oversee operations at Giga Nevada and continue to oversee operations at the Fremont factory as well. Other new leaders at the Gigafactory include Energy Leader Matt Reddick, Site Leader Eric Montgomery who will handle day-to-day operations, and Jeff Jackson, who will lead infrastructure in Nevada.

At the meeting attended by hundreds of Gigafactory employees, CNBC notes that Sagar also discussed new factory milestones and current production data at the Nevada and Fremont plant.

Tesla Gigafactory Nevada – December 2019 (credit: Smnt Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Sagar said the Nevada Gigafactory produced 283,473 engines in Q2, which were then fed into Fremont and Giga Austin. Montgomery said the plant will need to increase production to 8,800 high-voltage battery packs to support Fremont’s new production goals and “maximize four-wheel-drive builds.”

Speaking about Fremont, Sagar revealed that Fremont produced around 134,000 cars in Q2 and August was one of Fremont’s record production months. Sagar said Fremont is producing about 12,000 cars a week, with 14,000 cars a week as its next goal. That would put Fremont production at about 500,000 to 600,000 cars a year, allowing the plant to shut down.

Tesla is considering lithium refining

On Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk joked to investors, “do you like to cut money? Well, the lithium business is for you.”

Well, it looks like Tesla is following its CEO’s advice, according to a recent filing with the Texas comptroller’s office.

Tesla is considering building a lithium refinery in Texas on the Gulf Coast, where it plans to process “prime ore material into a useful state for battery production,” it said in the filing.

SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks on as he visits the Tesla factory construction site in Gruenheide, near Berlin, Germany May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks on as he visits the Tesla factory construction site in Gruenheide, near Berlin, Germany May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

Reuters notes that Tesla will be the first automaker to invest directly in lithium mining. This comes after several automakers such as Tesla, Ford ( F ), GM ( GM ) and Stellantis ( STLA ) invested directly in sourcing lithium crude.

Tesla signed a supply deal with Australia-based Liontown Resources ( LTR.AX ) earlier this year.

The reason automakers are getting involved is the lack of battery materials like raw and refined lithium needed for production, especially when considering the expanded EV production plans that traditional automakers are pushing through the end of the decade.

“We believe that by 2030, about 2/3 of new global car production will be electric, whether it’s a hybrid or a battery electric vehicle,” Morningstar’s US chief strategist Dave Sekura said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “So when we look at the amount of lithium that’s being produced today and how much they expect to come online over the next decade, we think the market for lithium will be pretty tight over the next decade.”

Currently, most of the refined lithium used by the automotive industry comes from China. With new incentives in the Inflation Act for US-made batteries and expanded consumer tax credits for cars with domestic battery materials, other automakers and suppliers are likely to invest more in lithium production and refining here at home.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him Twitter and up Instagram.

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