Headed by vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, the electric car revolution is showing no signs of stopping. The auto landscape today is very different from what it was years ago. Before, only Tesla and a few automakers were pushing electric cars, and the Model S was proving to the industry that EVs could be objectively better than internal combustion vehicles. Today, practically every automaker has plans to release electric cars. EV startup Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger summed it up best: “If you want to start a (car company) now, it has to be electric.”
Catalysts for a transition
A critical difference between then and now is that veteran automakers today are coming up with decent electric vehicles. No longer were EVs glorified golf carts and compliance cars; today’s electric vehicles are just as attractive, sleek, and powerful than their internal combustion peers. The auto industry has warmed up to electric vehicles as well. The Jaguar I-PACE has been collecting awards left and right since its release, and more recently, the Kia Niro EV was dubbed by Popular Mechanics as the recipient of its Car of the Year award.
A survey by CarGurus earlier this year revealed that 34% of car buyers are open to purchasing an electric car within the next ten years. A survey among young people in the UK last year revealed even more encouraging results, with 50% of respondents stating that they want electric cars. Amidst the disruption being brought about by the Tesla Model 3, which has all but dominated EV sales since production ramped last year, experienced automakers have responded in kind. Volkswagen recently debuted the ID.3, Audi has the e-tron, Hyundai has the Kona EV, and Mercedes-Benz has the EQC. Even Porsche, a low-volume car manufacturer, is attracting the high-end legacy market with the Taycan.
At this point, it appears that Tesla’s mission is going well underway. With the market now open to the idea of electric vehicles, there is an excellent chance that EV adoption will only increase from this point on.
Big oil feels a change in the wind
Passenger cars are the No.1 source of demand for oil, and with the potential emergence of a transportation industry whose life and death does not rely on a gas pump, Big Oil could soon find itself on the defensive. Depending on how quickly the auto industry could shift entirely to sustainable transportation and how seriously governments handle issues like climate change, “peak oil” could happen a couple of decades or a few years from now. This could adversely affect investors in the oil industry, who might be at risk of losing their investments if peak oil happens faster than expected. JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, described this potential scenario in a statement to CNN. “Look at what happened to the coal industry. You have to keep that in the back of your mind and be vigilant. It can turn very, very quickly,” the strategist said.
Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities previously mentioned that a “Tesla Effect” is starting to be felt in the oil markets. According to the analyst, the Tesla Effect is an increasingly prevalent concept today which states that while the 20th century was driven by oil, the 21st century will be driven by electricity. This, together with the growing movements against climate change today, does not bode well for the oil industry. Adam White, an equity strategist at SunTrust Advisory, stated that investors might not be looking at the oil market with optimism anymore. “A lot of damage has already been done. People are jaded towards the industry,” he said.
An analysis from Barclays points to the world’s reliance on oil peaking somewhere between 2030 and 2035, provided that countries keep to their low-carbon goals. The investment bank also noted that peak oil could happen as early as 2025 if more aggressive climate change initiatives are adopted on a wider scale. This all but makes investments in oil stocks very risky in the 2020s, and this risk gets amplified if electric vehicles become more mainstream. Sverre Alvik of research firm DNV GL described this concern. “By 2030, oil shareholders will feel the impact. Electric vehicles are likely to cause light vehicle oil demand to plunge by nearly 50% by 2040,” Alvik said.
Some of today’s prolific oil producers appear to be making the necessary preparations for peak oil’s inevitable decline. Amidst pressures from shareholders, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total have expanded their operations into solar, wind, and electric charging, seemingly as a means to future-proof themselves. On the flipside, there are also big oil players that are ramping their activities. Earlier this month, financial titan Warren Buffet, who recently expressed his skepticism towards Elon Musk’s plan of introducing an insurance service for Tesla’s electric cars, committed $10 billion to Occidental Petroleum, one of the largest oil and gas exploration companies in the United States.
A Point of No Return
The auto industry is now at a point where a real transition towards electrification is happening. Tesla’s efforts over the years, from the original Roadster to the Model 3, have played a huge part in this transition. Tesla, as well as its CEO, Elon Musk, have awakened the public’s eye about the viability of electric cars, while showing the auto industry that there is a demand for good, well-designed EVs. Nevertheless, Tesla still has a long journey ahead of it, as the company ramps its activities in the energy storage sector. If Tesla Energy mobilizes and becomes as disruptive as the company’s electric car division, it would deal yet another blow to the oil industry.
At this point, it is pertinent for veteran automakers that have released their own electric cars to ensure that they do not stop. Legacy carmakers had long talked the talk when it came to electric vehicles, but today, it is time to walk the walk. German automaker Volkswagen could be a big player in this transition, as hinted at by the reception of its all-electric car, the ID.3. The ID.3 launch was successful, with Volkswagen getting 10,000 preorders for the vehicle in just 24 hours. The German carmaker should see this as writing on the wall: the demand for EVs is there.
The Volkswagen ID.3 is not as quick or sleek as a Tesla Model 3, nor does it last as long on the road between charges. But considering its price point and its badge, it does not have to be. Volkswagen states that the ID.3 will be priced below 40,000 euros ($45,000) in Germany, which should make it attainable for car buyers in the country. If done right, the ID.3 could be the second coming of the Beetle, ultimately becoming a car that redeems the company from the stigma of the Dieselgate scandal. Thus, it would be a great shame if Volkswagen drops the ball on the ID.3.
Tesla will likely remain a divisive company for years to come; Elon Musk, even more so. Nevertheless, Tesla and what it stands for is slowly becoming an idea, one that connotes hope for something better and cleaner for the future. And if history’s victories and tragedies are any indication, once something becomes an idea, an intangible concept, it becomes impossible to kill.