The Tesla Effect: Why EVs will take a big bite out of oil demand

The newly defined “Tesla Effect” is producing remarkable consequences. Tesla electric vehicles (EVs) have changed the way that people all over the globe now think about transportation, the place of zero tailpipe emissions, and an accelerated agenda for sustainable energy. One “Tesla Effect” is that the International Energy Agency last month forecast that global gasoline demand has all but peaked because of more efficient cars and the spread of EVs.

Thank you, Tesla.

As a small Silicon Valley startup, Tesla Motors began with a line of luxury electric sports cars that could reliably produce more than 200 miles on a single charge. Due to the wide acclaim and demand it received for its cars, Tesla was able to repay a 2010 loan from the U.S. Department of Energy a full nine years early. Their manufacturing facility in California became the largest auto industry employer in California, and Tesla was soon spreading its mission around the globe. It has achieved success beyond any expectations — except that, perhaps, of CEO Elon Musk — and has prompted other major automakers to accelerate work on their own electric vehicles in order to maintain currency in the market.

And now, while EVs represent less than 1 percent of total vehicle sales, they are predicted to soar in popularity around 2025. That’s when many governments around the globe, including Athens, Madrid, Mexico City, and Paris, have pledged to phase out diesel vehicles in a battle against pollution. These promises, known as “intended nationally determined contributions,” will have significant consequences of their own over the decade that will follow. By 2035, EVs may remove 1 million to 2 million barrels a day of oil demand from the market.

“Anything that reduces the demand for transportation has an impact on the oil market,” Alan Gelder, vice president of refining, chemicals, and oils markets at Wood Mackenzie, said in an interview in London. “The question is how big is it going to be and what’s the time frame.”

Tesla Fremont factory Model S and Model X

Model S and Model X vehicles off the production line seen via aerial drone shot of Tesla factory

Electric cars are displacing about 50,000 barrels a day of demand now, according to the oil industry consultant, Wood Mackenzie, which promotes itself to potential customers as “embedded in the industry, with more than four decades building relationships, improving performance and keeping you ahead of the competition.” To placate nervous clients, Wood Mackenzie says that it does expect total oil demand to keep growing for decades, driven by shipping, trucking, aviation, and petrochemical industries. That’s more conservative than Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s forecast for EVs to displace about 8 million barrels a day of demand by 2035.

Tesla alone won’t be able to supply enough EVs if demand really takes off, Gelder said. Major automakers including Volkswagen AG and Ford Motor Co. will need to produce them on a larger scale. “At the moment they can’t, and changing manufacturing lines takes time.”

Gelder continued his argument by stating that regulation and government subsidies alone won’t be enough to spark a boom in EVs. Consumers, he insisted, will need to believe that EVs are preferred for a variety of reasons. “If there’s a technology revolution, so battery technology gets cheaper and EVs don’t need a subsidy, then it comes down to consumer preference. If the consumers like something, it’ll switch far faster.”

If the global response to Tesla is any indication, EVs are not only here to stay: they’ll be the preferred individual mode of transportation of the future.

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