Wake up or be disrupted: BYD’s Micheal Austin keynotes Benchmark Minerals Week 2018, warns lithium ion battery industry

It was a pleasure for the Benchmark Minerals team to welcome Micheal Austin, BYD America’s Vice President as the keynote to Cathodes 2018, the world’s leading lithium ion battery and electric vehicle supply chain conference.

Since 2007 when Micheal joined BYD, he has been a true pioneer in the electric vehicle (EV) industry and has been instrumental to BYD’s efforts to bring electrification to the mass market.

His career spans back to Motorola and the launch of the $3,995 phone (in 1983 US dollars) DyanTAC cell phone, commonly known as The Brick.

Micheal Austin BYD

“Right out of school I was recruited by Motorola to work on the battery on this phone… this phone was two and a half pounds, the battery was six nickel–cadmium (NiCd) double A cells.. and the phone and the battery could not detach when you dropped it from the roof of a building,” BYD’s Micheal Austin told the delegation of lithium ion supply chain decision makers at Cathodes 2018, part of Benchmark Minerals Week 2018.

“We weren’t too worried about the twenty minutes of talk time because frankly no-one would hold a two and a half pound phone for twenty minutes… and it took 10 hours to charge the battery.”

“Money never sleeps… yeah you [the lithium ion battery industry] have done good and you’ve got to keep doing good but other technologies are out to eat your lunch.. school’s out!”

“Like Gordon Gekko, I want to be surprised, I want to be astonished by what you bring to the market,” BYD’s battery supply chain expert said.

“I want cobalt free batteries that are as fire safe as iron phosphate, yet higher energy density… so that my vehicle can go 500 miles on a single charge,” he said.

Micheal Austin reflected on how a technology can be disrupted quicker than expected as price elasticity changes and warned the lithium ion battery professionals that new chemistry and battery designs are out to “eat your lunch.”

“15 different Japanese suppliers at the time were supplying my NiCd batteries and all of those suppliers did a major shift…when a new revolution occurred with lithium ion cobalt oxide…It wasn’t just a rapid adoption, it became a disruption…and you could be disrupted very, very easily,” Austin warned.

The Brick Motorola

The lithium ion battery supply chain is growing at an unprecedented pace, yet the blueprint is still some way behind where the industry needs to be by 2028.

Benchmark Mineral Intelligence data shows that just under $400bn has been invested in electric vehicle supply chain infrastructure from the mine to the EV, which could produce an estimated 15-17m EVs by 2028.

Yet this is way short of bullish targets announced by the world’s major auto producers.

EV supply chain investment

“We’ve got to make sure we keep on growing the market and keep on growing the investments in the market. Money never sleeps,” Austin declared.

“A lot of the traditional monolithic vehicle companies will be gone because they didn’t see the technology shift and they aren’t listening to customers, and they are racing to keep up with the future, which I believe is electric.”

BYD’s Austin left the audience with the famous clip of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko saying to his apprentice: “This is your wake up call, pal, go to work”.

You can watch his full speech here:

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