May 14 (Reuters) - Livent Corp aims to derive more than half of its lithium sales from the electric vehicle industry by next year, a shift for a company that historically has supplied the white metal for use in greases and other industrial products, its chief executive said Tuesday in an interview.
Philadelphia-based Livent has struggled in recent months to retain some customers and offset gyrations in the price of lithium it produces. While the company's lithium is used in Tesla Inc vehicles, Livent has not expanded into the automotive space as rapidly as some peers have.
"Our customers are changing," Chief Executive Paul Graves told Reuters. "The auto supply chain is an increasingly critical area for us."
Livent last week cut its full-year profit and revenue forecasts and also said two senior executives would exit. The company's stock has since dropped 30 percent since the forecast cut, closing Tuesday at $7.70 per share.
"There's no doubt this is a transitionary year," said Graves, who joined chemical maker FMC Corp in 2012 before it spun off Livent last fall.
Livent has focused its business on one specific type of the white metal, hydroxide, which has drawn weak demand in recent months due in part to uncertainty around China's electric vehicle subsidies.
Graves said he regrets that Livent moved so quickly to focus on hydroxide, preferring instead that the company focused on both hydroxide and carbonate, another main type of the metal.
"There's no doubt the shift to hydroxide is happening across the industry... but it would have been nice to be a little more diversified with more carbonate in the mix," he said.
Graves said that in addition to the executive departures announced last week, two or three other junior staff members will leave, but no mass layoff is planned.
Livent in the next few years plans to hire sales staff in South Korea, China and Japan, part of a strategy to take a greater share of the battery market, he said.
The company has no desire to sell itself and does not see any appealing buyout opportunities, Graves added.
"We're certainly not a seller, as there's a huge amount of embedded value not reflected in the share price today," he said. "I would like to say an acquisition of a peer would be nice, but there's not many peers out there that would bring much to the table for us." (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Dan Grebler)