Last year, the electric vehicle sector crossed a global milestone, with one out of ten vehicles sold being electric for the first time ever. While that slice of the market might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, another alarming trend for legacy ICE vehicle makers like Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F), Mercedes-Benz Group AG and BMW is that their total vehicle sales declined despite EV sales more than doubling.
Obviously, oil and gas investors are receiving these developments with a bit of trepidation considering that EVs are seen as the arch-nemesis of the sector. And, this is no longer all about Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) alone, with pundits saying stiff competition from the likes of GM and Ford is coming its way.
GM is one of the legacy automakers with the biggest clean energy investments, particularly in the EV sector. In 2022, GM delivered 39,096 all-electric vehicles in the U.S., up 57% year-over-year. While that figure accounts for just 1.7% of GM's total volume sold and cannot handle a candle to Tesla’s 1.3M EV sales, GM might turn the tables on Tesla a few years down the line.
GM Ceo Mary Barra has revealed that the company plans to produce ~400,000 electric vehicles from 2022 through the first half of 2024, and that the company will be capable of annual EV production of more than one million in North America in 2025. Indeed, GM could overtake Tesla in just two to three years: a 2022 "Car Wars" report has forecasts that GM and Ford Motors (NYSE:F) each will have roughly 15% EV market share in 2025 while Tesla will plummet from 70% to 11% with new products like the F-150 Lightning and Silverado EV electric pickups driving the robust growth. Tesla appears set to lose its dominant EV market share because both legacy automakers are expanding their portfolios and lineups at a much faster clip.
“GM has found a new life as an ESG play. We do have a sustainability fund that owns it in part because of their commitment to electrification. Mary Barra has been pretty vocal about that obviously, and it looks like it’s for real,” Christopher Marangi, Gamco’s value co-chief investment officer, told Bloomberg TV’s Surveillance.
Implications On Oil Demand
Over the years, there’s been no shortage of blue-sky forecasts from EV enthusiasts who have predicted an apocalypse for the oil industry that will be dished out by the EV revolution.
That includes Stanford University economist Tony Seba who has declared that EVs will obliterate the global oil industry by 2030 while Bloomberg News’ Akshat Rathi is on record claiming that ‘every F-150 Lightning destroys 50+ barrels of oil demand forever.’ The F-150 Lightning is Ford Motors’ (NYSE:F) electric equivalent of the marquee Ford-150 truck. Meanwhile, back in 2016, Bloomberg itself predicted EVs will trigger a global oil crisis.
It’s not hard to see why these EV punters have been going ballistic. The transportation sector is responsible for nearly 60% of global oil demand, with passenger vehicles and trucks guzzling the lion’s share. EV sales are surging thanks to a combination of new compelling models from automakers, improvements in battery technology, policy support and more charging infrastructure. Electrification is also beginning to spread to new segments of road transport.
While there’s no denying that rapid adoption of EVs is bad news for global oil demand, the reality is probably nowhere near as dire as analysts like Seba have claimed. BNEF estimates EVs are currently displacing 1.5 million barrels of oil demand per day, good for 3% of total road fuel demand. But projections of the EV growth trajectory are all over the place, making it difficult to estimate how much impact the sector will have on future oil demand.
According to BNEF, just over half of passenger cars sold in the U.S. will be electric vehicles by 2030. Forecasts for the penetration of EV to total passenger car sales by 2030 range from 11% at the low end to 63% at the high end while projections for 2050 range from 31% to nearly 100%. The lower end of these forecasts suggests minimal to gradual displacement of oil demand while the higher end suggests quite severe oil demand destruction.
In carbon-constrained forecasts, passenger vehicle oil demand is expected to fall from about 25 million barrels per day today to 3–6 million barrels per day by 2050. However, most other forecasts see passenger vehicle oil demand ranging from 10 million to 20 million barrels per day by 2050.
Petrochemicals To Drive Oil Demand
Energy expert Energy Intelligence Group has predicted that not only will oil demand grow in 2023 but it will continue doing so till the end of the decade. According to the analyst, global oil demand is expected to grow by 1.5 mb/d in 2023, with China accounting for 650,000 b/d after the country abandoned its rigorous zero-Covid policy. Global oil demand will hit 101.2 million barrels per day in the current year and will continue growing to hit 106 mb/d by 2030. Indeed, this year’s average is expected to exceed the previous high of 100.6 mb/d set in 2019.
While this is great news for the oil bulls, the expert says that growth will primarily be driven by petrochemicals rather than transport fuels. Energy Intelligence Group has also said that its base case is a plateau rather than a decline. Actually, Energy Intelligence is not the only bull here. Below is a table that compares oil demand predictions by 28 organizations including a handful of Big Oil companies.
You will notice that no less than 10 organizations, including OPEC, Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), have predicted that global oil demand will actually grow as we go along and not shrink as most analysts have forecast.
To be fair, it’s hard to be bullish about the long-term oil demand trend given that climate mandates are unlikely to ease, which coupled with the EV explosion as well as rapidly improving efficiency for gas-powered vehicles, are sure to limit oil consumption. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) recently warned that keeping a 1.5ºC or even 2ºC warming limit in sight will require a big strengthening of current policies. In fact, Paris-compliant energy scenarios assume oil and gas demand will fall by respectively 40%-80% and 20%-60% between now and 2050 while gas demand needs to peak from 2025-2030.
Meanwhile, a plethora of innovations, such as gasoline direct fuel injection, turbocharged engines, automatic transmissions with more gear ratios, and stop/start systems that shut off the engine instead of allowing it to idle has improved fuel efficiency of new vehicles quite dramatically. New U.S. cars now travel nearly twice as far per gallon as they did at the start of the Obama administration, while light trucks and SUVs have increased efficiency by a more modest 59%. About 26% of crude production is consumed by the transport sector.
The big takeaway here is that EVs are likely to pose a substantial threat to the fossil fuel industry over the long-term.
By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com