“Superior electric cars are on their way, and they could begin to wreck oil markets within a decade.”, says Bloomberg News. Despite the fact that Tesla and Chevrolet have committed to bringing an affordable long-range electric vehicle to market in the near term, and other major auto manufacturers continue to invest billions in developing their own electric vehicles, Bloomberg notes that major oil companies such as Shell and ExxonMobil, as well as oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia, still believe that electric cars will only account for about 1% of all cars on the road in 2040.
The current turmoil in the oil markets began when oil from shale and fracking suddenly added 2 million barrels a day of new oil to world markets. Bloomberg asks, “How long will it be before electric cars reduce daily demand for oil by 2 million barrels a day or more?” It says electric car sales may be a small percentage of the total market, but they were up 60% worldwide in 2015. Assuming the same rate of increase, demand for oil could plummet by 2 million barrels a day as early as 2023.
The trend may not be obvious to people in the United States, where unexpectedly low gasoline prices have started people clamoring for large trucks and SUVs again. On Tuesday, Bodo Uebber, chief financial officer for Daimler, told reporters, “This is the only market where people are reacting on the fuel price. Your change in behavior is extreme in my point of view.” EV sales declined somewhat in the US in 2015, but surged in other parts of the world. In Europe, electric cars enjoyed a 49% rise in demand in 2015, according to CleanTechnica.
In Europe, drivers pay much higher gasoline taxes, which tend to minimize fluctuations in market behavior based solely on oil prices. Fuel on the Continent typically costs triple what it does in the US. If the US took this opportunity to impose a carbon fee on fossil fuels, an idea that has strong support from Elon Musk, that would have the secondary effect of damping the wild swings in customer demands that have become routine in the past several decades.
Bloomberg concludes their report with this cautionary message. “The timing of new technologies is difficult to predict, but it may not be long before it becomes impossible to ignore.”
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