Hype Meets Reality as Electric Car Dreams Run Into Metal Crunch

When BMW AG revealed it was designing electric versions of its X3 SUV and Mini, the going rate for 21 kilograms of cobalt—the amount of the metal needed to power typical car batteries—was under $600.

Only 16 months later, the price tag is approaching $1,700 and climbing by the day.

For carmakers vying to fill their fleets with electric vehicles, the spike has been a rude awakening as to how much their success is riding on the scarce silvery-blue mineral found predominantly in one of the world’s most corrupt and underdeveloped countries.