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The EV Myth – Electric Car Threat To Oil Is Wildly Overstated

Electric Car

At the outset of the 2014 oil collapse, slacking oil demand growth was often cited as a major contributor to the sharp decline in oil prices. In September 2014, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated “The recent slowdown in demand growth is nothing short of remarkable”. The IEA doubled down and expanded on its weak demand thesis in its Medium-Term Oil Outlook report issued in February 2015:

The global economy, reshaped by the information technology revolution, has generally become less fuel intensive. Concerns over climate change are recasting energy policies. And the globalisation of the natural gas market, coupled with steep reductions in the cost and availability of renewable energy, are causing oil to face a level of inter-fuel competition that would have seemed unfathomable a few years ago …. the recent price decline is expected to have only a marginal impact on global demand growth for the remainder of the decade. Projections of oil-demand growth have been revised downwards, rather than upwards, since the price drop, in line with IMF forecasts of underlying economic growth; demand growth is expected to slow markedly, to 1.1 mb/d per annum over the next six years, from the “normal” pace of expansion exhibited prior to the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

The IEA was not alone, headlines and articles in the same vein were prevalent in the early innings of the oil price collapse:

World Oil Demand: And Then There Was None

Brookings Institution

Oct 2014

Falling Demand for Oil Is the Biggest Concern for Saudis


Jan 2015

Oil's "Surprise" Collapse: It's The Demand, Stupid


Feb 2015

This narrative made sense, the rise of EVs spearheaded by Tesla, increasingly stringent environmental policies, sluggish global economy and persistently high oil prices finally did oil in, except for a minor fact, none of these stories were true. After the dust settled and the IEA did its tally of oil demand, we notice that no actual collapse in oil demand has taken place, if anything, oil demand growth has accelerated materially since the crisis:

As can be seen from the table above, global oil and NGLs demand has been growing at a steady average annual rate of 1.15 million barrels prior to the crisis, and has accelerated since to 1.8 million barrels per year, with 2016 still subject to upward revisions. This acceleration in demand was predictable as per findings of demand elasticity studies available at the time. In April 2011, the International Monetary Fund published a 20-year oil price elasticity study, which concluded that a 10 percent increase (or decrease) in oil prices yields a 0.019 percent change in oil consumption over the short term, and 0.072 percent change over the long term.

(Click to enlarge)

Between 2011 and 2014 Brent oil prices averaged $107 per barrel, following the price collapse the average declined to $48 per barrel for 2015 and 2016, or 56 percent decline. Related: Saudi King Goes East In Search Of Friends And Cash

Applying this price decline to IMF findings would argue for a 1 percent acceleration in oil demand growth in 2015 and 2016 vs. the demand growth average prior to the crisis. This is exactly what happened. If we revert back to the historic oil demand growth table, we notice that demand growth has indeed accelerated in 2015 by about one percentage point to 2.15 percent as compared to 1.27 percent before the crisis. The 2016 demand growth average has slowed down to 1.7 percent growth; however, 2016 demand data is still preliminary and will likely be revised higher as the IEA is notorious for underestimating historic demand growth and has a history of substantial upward revisions. In addition, the fact that global GDP growth in 2016 was the slowest since the financial crisis, was a factor that could have weighted on 2016 demand to some extent.

Going forward, the IMF study argues for an acceleration in oil demand growth over the long term should prices remain low, and with shale oil potentially capping oil prices in the $60 range, the impact of this oil collapse on oil demand is likely to be sustained for an extended period of time. The fact that oil demand accelerates with time in a low oil price environment is consistent with the fact that personal and industrial users take time to fully adjust for a lower oil price environment. Whether upgrading to a bigger car, or moving further way from the city, or constructing a new petrochemical plant, these decisions take time before they flow into oil demand statistics.

What Electric Cars?

One of the most powerful arguments against sustained oil demand growth is the ongoing and expected growth in the electric car market, a trend driven by two powerful forces: innovation and policy support. The former remains in full force; however policy support is questionable in the Trump era (34 percent of the global EV car fleet is in the U.S.). The Paris climate deal aims to have 100 million electric cars on the road by 2030 or roughly 6.6 percent of the expected car fleet in the world by then, such target equates to a 100-fold increase in the global EVs stock. These numbers sound impressive except for the fact that they have a negligible impact on global oil demand.

(Click to enlarge)

(Source: BP)

According to BP’s long term energy outlook, the introduction of 100m electric cars on the road by 2035 will only reduce global oil demand growth by 1.2 million barrels. This is a miniscule number when applied over the entire forecast period. This is not to mention achieving the 100 million EV cars goal by the 2030s is highly uncertain, with both the U.S. and China reducing and eliminating EV subsidies, the former due to a forthcoming change of policy and the latter due to rampant green subsidy fraud, this goal is ever less certain. It’s worth noting that the Obama administration invested heavily since 2009 to achieve a goal of 1 million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015, and ended up meeting only 40 percent of this target (and this is if we include 200,000 Plug in Hybrids).

In a nutshell. EVs are a red herring. By far the most important variable on passenger cars oil demand is changes in fuel efficiency standards. In this area, the United States is a clear laggard:

(Source: OPEC)

As can be seen from the above, passenger cars fuel consumption in the United States and Canada is materially higher than the average consumption in other developed markets such as Europe and OECD Asia. Thus, the scope of for fuel efficiency improvement is the largest in North America. The extent of this fuel efficiency improvement is now in question in light of the election of Donald Trump. A stalling or a reversal in U.S. fuel (CAFE) standards could theoretically eliminate the totality of the global fuel savings gained by the introduction of 100 million electric cars.

Reversal or slowdown in car fuel efficiency is not just a potential U.S. phenomenon. Since the 1990s Europe, doubled down on diesel cars due to their 15 percent to 30 percent better fuel millage vs. gasoline cars. The support for diesel cars ranged from lowering taxes on diesel to preferential tax treatment. Favoring diesel over gasoline lead to diesel cars in Europe increasing their market share from 10 percent of the car fleet in the mid-90s to 55 percent at their peak in 2012. This trend has changed after the Volkswagen scandal, as it became evident that diesel cars are more polluting. The pro-diesel policy was abandoned in favor of EVs and hybrid cars. However, despite the emerging policy support for EVs, less polluting and less efficient gasoline cars stand to gain in market share in Europe at the expense of diesel over the medium term, which in turn has an impact on the European car fleet efficiency.

Outside of EVs and fuel standards, what’s driving oil demand in the passenger car sector is the sheer number of passenger cars set to hit the road over the next 20 years, with the total car fleet growing from 1B cars today to 2B cars by 2040:

(Source: OPEC)

The majority of the projected car ownership increase will take place in the developing world where car ownership per capita remains substantially below that of the OECD countries. 80 percent of the world population still lives outside of the OECD countries.

It’s not all about cars

What’s often forgotten in the discussion about oil demand is that passenger cars present only 20 percent of global oil demand:

(Click to enlarge)

(Source: BP)

Analyzing oil demand by focusing solely on 20 percent of the market is bound to yield misleading results. Oil demand is driven by a myriad of structural factors most of which are tied to industrialization, global commerce, improving living standards and marine, air and truck transport. These forces are not subject to speculation on EV penetration. Statoil, by far the most conservative forecaster of future oil demand and the oil major most bullish on EV penetration (17 percent of the global car fleet by 2030) still expects oil demand to reach 106 million by 2030. Specifically referring to non-transport oil demand, Statoil states:

Given the outlook of decelerating oil demand growth in the transport sector, the non-energy sector, where petro-chemicals represent the lion’s share, becomes the most rapid growing sector for oil. Demand growth for petrochemical products is expected to remain high and the potential for energy efficiency is relatively limited. Therefore, demand for petrochemical feedstock rises steadily, from 15 mbd in 2015 to about 24-27 mbd by 2040, dependent on the scenario. Related: Will Tesla’s $2.6 Billion SolarCity Gamble Pay Off?

As a matter of fact, just recently the Asian Development Bank issued a report urging Asian nations to double infrastructure spending to $1.7 trillion per year, for a total of $26 trillion by 2030. Such recommendation if followed, will have a far more material impact on oil demand in the coming years than any new EV model companies such as Tesla may bring to the market.

Low levels of car ownership, and lagging industrialization continue to place per capita oil consumption in Non-OECD countries far below those in the OECD:

(Click to enlarge)

(Source: World Oil and Gas Review)

With the majority of the world population still residing in non-OECD countries, and the remaining massive gap in per capita oil consumption in the OECD (13.19 barrels) vs. Non-OECD (2.92 barrels), we can easily see a path for much higher demand for many years to come. As a matter of fact, despite a 2.2 barrels decline in OECD per capita oil consumption from 2000 to 2015, global oil demand still increased from 77 million barrels in 2000 to 95 million barrels in 2015. This can be traced to the 0.8 barrels increase in non-OECD per capita consumption, a powerful testament to the powerful impact non-OECD oil demand growth can have on global oil demand.


Oil investors, executives and forecasters have been gun shy in their oil demand projections, the constant barrage of negative oil headlines and the politically sensitive nature of being disposed favorably toward oil after years of green indoctrination has skewed the debate. A friend of mine who attended the International Petroleum Week event in London reported a sense of gloom and lack of confidence about future oil demand by the people who are supposed to insure sufficient investments to insure adequate oil supply. Yet, despite the rampant skepticism reality says otherwise, demand growth over the last two years has been the best since the mid-2000s (barring the 2010 oil demand rebound from the financial crisis). In the United States, the Trump administration is adopting a pro-fossil fuel policy, while considering an ambitious infrastructure and tax plan that could accelerate U.S. growth to 3 percent growth over the coming years. Meanwhile, Europe is experiencing a growth renaissance spurred by an easy monetary policy and low euro. China is tugging along despite yearly predictions of impeding economic collapse, and India continue to plow ahead under a determined Modi leadership. Furthermore, the recent price rebound in a number of commodities should have a favourable impact on the economy of commodity exporters such as Brazil and South Africa. Besides a more bullish global GDP outlook, the oil industry itself is a large consumer of oil due to the energy intensive nature of developing unconventional oil resources. A rebound in oil prices to the $60s range, should help spur oil demand in oil producing countries and regions.

Oil at $60-$70 could prove to be a sort of a Goldilocks price where both demand and supply find a healthy balance, a rise in prices much above these levels could reverse some of the positive demand drivers discussed in this article, and could prove self-defeating for the long-term health of the oil industry. This is where shale oil could play a constructive role in keeping the market well supplied and prices reasonable in the face of solid demand growth. Many view shale oil as an unwelcome guest on the global oil scene. Yet, it’s the arrival of shale oil, and the resulting moderation in oil prices that’s at the core of this rejuvenated global oil demand growth.

According to the IEA data, in the last two years, OECD oil demand switched from an average annual decline of 300,000 barrels to 450,000 barrels growth. The dynamics governing U.S. oil demand in particular might prove sufficient for OECD oil demand growth to maintain its positive trajectory over the next several years. Healthy OECD oil demand combined with structural oil demand growth of 1.2 million to 1.5 million in non-OECD countries could generate 5 million barrels in additional oil demand between 2018-2020, this is on top of the 5 million barrels or so in demand growth witnessed since the outset of the oil crisis. To borrow a line from the IEA, such buoyant growth would have seemed unfathomable a few years ago.

By Nawar Alsaadi for Oilprice.com

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  • Darrel Obuck on March 02 2017 said:
    Thank you for writing such an informative article. I have been questioning the popularity of EV vehicles for a long time. Not because I am anti-enviromental, but because the sales numbers do not lie.

    The Wall Street Journal publishes monthly vehicles sales numbers, and the top 3 sellers every month are Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram. EV's do not even make the top 20 list for sales numbers. Even hydrids are not on the top 20 list.

    This tells me that most consumers do not want EV or hydrid vehicles. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a EV or hydrid vehicle, but the MSM tends to make one think that they are more popular. As I said the sales numbers do not lie.

    Here is the website for monthly sales numbers

  • Bharath on March 02 2017 said:
    Author conveniently left many important factors related to EV. 1st and foremost is electric buses which consumes 20% of global crude oil production. 1 diesel bus consumes almost 2 barrels of oil per day and a million buses will take off 2 million barrels of demand . one electric bus on road will save 80 liters of diesel per day. india is trying to convert its 1.5 lakh diesel buses to electric buses so it can offset around 1 crore liters of diesel thats equal to 3 lakh barrels and same thing goes with china. if india and china can convert their buses to EV that will offset a demand of 1 million barrels per day .
  • bankbuyer on March 02 2017 said:
    A lot of pablum here and already well known data.
    Does little to explain how badly you missed oil inventory, technological improvements, debt financed US shale fiasco and the brittle balance sheet of some of your picks.
    As an example, Penn West went from 180K BOED to 25K BOED in their desperate attempts to deleverage. In the end , they had to sell non core properties to survive. Your prior articles stated oil would bottom a couple years ago at ~$60. That call and brittle balance sheets was very costly.
    As I recall, you also had an over reliance on flowing barrel which, at the time: I pointed out was an error.
    I expect oil demand to remain solid. Companies I own like CVX have maintained their divvy and the share price performance is reasonable. I picked your PWE under a buck, waiting until panic and desperation set in. Next cycle I suggest you listen more and pontificate less.
  • David Hrivnak on March 02 2017 said:
    I believe you will be soon surprised as most people miss geometric growth. EVs are growing at 50% a year and with the release of the Bolt and upcoming Tesla Model 3 we will soon see double that growth.

    We have cut our gasoline usage by 90% by going electric and we will never buy another car without a plug.
  • JHM on March 02 2017 said:
    This argument is wildly naive. Batteries are enabling renewable energy to make inroads into all oil markets, save non-energy uses. Moreover, the impact of renewables, batteries and vehicle electrification will grow more quickly in non-OECD countries than in developed ones. I would encourage the author to explore electric buses in China. These will dominate the global bus market within five years, much faster penetration than private passenger vehicles and having much bigger impact per GWh of batteries. But even private EVs are growing faster in developing countries than developed. Even Tesla tripled their sales in China last year without government incentives that domestic EV makers enjoy.

    It is a fundamental error to think that EVs will not grow faster in developing economies than where oil demand is already in structural decline, specifically OECD countries. Moreover, developing economies can avoid wasting billions in oil and gas infrastructure, where electric vehicles can leverage more impactful investment in electrical infrastructure. Just as solar power and batteries can bring microgrids to areas lacking power, they can power vehicles too and avoid the need to transport fuel to remote communities. As China figures out how to make compelling products at low cost, they will export this to all developing countries as well. So don't buy into the myth that an EV is just a toy for the rich. Low cost batteries will transform energy markets everywhere and especially in developing countries.
  • Aussie on March 02 2017 said:
    Excellent article!
  • Dale Dyer on March 03 2017 said:
    This is the most comprehensive article to help anyone see the light...oil demand will keep going up! The question is...even with shale production, can we keep up with the growth when 2B cars are on the road? Great article and analysis.
  • Frank on March 03 2017 said:
    Oil demand will continue to rise through at least 2023 and then commence it's inevitable death spiral as EVs take over and renewables flood the market with essentially free fuel. Everyone knows this.
  • Me on March 03 2017 said:
    Mr. Alsaadi has done an outstanding analysis, bringing government propaganda and media hype on the "peak demand" red herring into proper perspective. For the foreseeable future, demand will continue growing at ~1MM bb/d per year...and depletion (base decline in worldwide production; ~ 4 MM bbl/d per year) "never sleeps."

    As for US shale, that bullet was already shot (e.g., see Art Berman's recent piece on the Bakken). It will dampen the price growth for the next year or so, but with spare capacity in the Middle East approaching zero, there's only one way for prices to go.

    Whether or not the global economy can tolerate $100/bbl oil, it's on the way...peak "cheap" oil is in the rear view mirror.
  • darth on March 03 2017 said:
    This article totally misses the effect of autonomous vehicles. These will put substantial downward pressure on new car ownership, especially in the developing world. As fleet vehicles, they will be overwhelmingly electric due to EVs lower total cost of ownership.

    Any increase in oil prices back to $60-70 will only drive faster EV adoption.
  • Henry on March 03 2017 said:
    This article was an absolute joke. You catch the writers name....NAWAR ALSAADI....Here were the sources the author used,
    (Source: BP)
    (Source: OPEC)
    (Source: OPEC)
    (Source: BP)
    (Source: World Oil and Gas Review)

    Hmmmm, are they unbiased or biased sources...LOL ? Like it or not the corks off the bottle. The EV are here and they are building and buying as fast as they can. They will be cheaper to build then the gas car at full production. Understand every 18 cars sold removes a tanker trailer truck delivery. In 2016 alone over 43,000 tanker deliveries were eliminated. I actually like articles like this that are 100% removed from reality. It keeps me rooted at how much greed is still in the market and the lengths they will go to to deliver inaccurate false information.
  • Steve on March 03 2017 said:
    Henry, what's the author's name got to do with anything? Are you implying he's of Arabic origin? This sounds like a racist comment to me.
  • EdBCN on March 03 2017 said:
    Very informative article. It's obvious that increased efficiency (of cars and every thing else) is the biggest contributor to weak demand. And that's going to continue even if there is a loosening of policy because older, less efficient cars will still be cycling out of the fleet as newer, more efficient cars come in. The big existing fleet is why EVs won't effect consumption picture noticeably for a long time. But in the mean time all the drivers that are pushing demand down in the developed world are going to continue.
  • EH on March 03 2017 said:
    Absolutely BS. Dear author,, please check out John Deer on YouTube, they too are retooling for there Farm Tractors and have a demo model ready for production.
  • J P Decaen on March 04 2017 said:
    Check out the new glass electrolyte battery research being carried out at U of Texas in Austin. John Goodenough is on this team and he's the Einstein of batteries. This is a big step up in almost every way from lithium ion batteries which are already pretty good. 3 times the energy density and safe, cheap, and fast charging. Do the admittedly excellent author's article take into consideration the appearance of such batteries in five years or so? The internal combustion engine will be practically dead.
  • Ass on March 04 2017 said:
    Interesting analysis, and some interesting comments as well!

    One thing to note - this is the view as of now, based on the data we have today. Yet something as pervasive as the shale revolution, which as per the article now effectively caps the price at the 60-70 range, was completely missed by analysts in the years beforehand (never forget the $200/bbl Goldman Sachs prediction). No one was paying attention to it and then it suddenly clicked and its impact was felt soon shortly thereafter. The EV/clean energy genie might still be skinny and weak but is definitely out of the bottle. Perceptions on climate change and the environment have shifted, even if policy is still lagging behind. At some point it will all click. The question is of course when. But the size and speed of the change will hit like a tsunami.
  • Jeff Dallas on March 04 2017 said:
    Folks of the green persuasion tend to believe what they want to believe and hope to see happen rather than reality right in front of them.

    EVs will grow. But the fact remains that EVs are a tiny fraction of vehicle son the road and will continue to be for the next 20-30 years, according to all reasonable market projections.

    Remember Obama's goal of one million EVs on the road by 2015? Oops... didn't happen and still hasn't. Maybe 500,000 compared to the 250 million cars on the road in the US.

    Also keep in mind that passenger cars only comprise a small fraction of global oil consumption. Even EVs could get to 5%, 10%, 25% of cars on the road it wouldn't make much difference to global oil consumption.
  • JP White on March 04 2017 said:
    Collapsing battery prices, ahead of earlier predictions, added to the fact an EV is simply a better driving experience means that the EV will replace fossil fuel cars. The question is when.

    In Norway with strong incentives, EV market share is firmly in the early majority phase of adoption well past early adopter stage. Norway EV sales make up 37% of new car sales so far during Q1 2017, up from 29% in 2016 overall. The tipping point in Norway has been reached already.

    How will the US and other European countries adopt EV's? Certainly the incentives are weaker and could possibly weaken further. The tipping point could be 5-10 years away, but when it is reached oil demand will be significantly impacted.

    The sleeping giant is China. Chinese EV sales overtook the US between 2015/16, its quite possible China will reach the tipping point of EV adoption before the US. If so oil demand will surly be impacted. The desire to solve pollution issues is a strong driver in China, they will have a stronger will to make EV's dominant.

    I believe it is quite probable that the US will be the last major car marketplace to switch to electric drive.
  • J P DeCaen on March 04 2017 said:
    Watch out for "alternative facts". Auto fuel accounts for around 45% of petroleum sold in the US, according to a Google search.
  • Juan Carlos Zuleta on March 06 2017 said:
    There is something wrong with the Liquids Demand chart. As I have shown in detail (See: http://seekingalpha.com/article/3970134-bloomberg-vs-navigant-research-will-evs-produce-new-oil-crash), EV sales are likely to reduce the demand for oil by about 2.1 million barrels a day by 2024. See also how accurate my forecast of EV sales growth has been until now (http://seekingalpha.com/article/4040930-phevs-bevs-lithium-way-displace-oil-global-energy-market-2024). However, these trends don't appear to be picked up by the projections for both the demand for oil used by light cars and the demand for oil utilized by trucks (where I presume buses are included) shown in that chart where it appears like nothing is really happening. Why? In a comment on a recent article published by The Economist (See: http://www.economist.com/news/business/21717070-carmakers-face-short-term-pain-and-long-term-gain-electric-cars-are-set-arrive-far-more/comments?page=1#sort-comments), I have advanced the following explanation: "Actually, according to 2016 IEA's Oil Medium Term Market Report (OMTMR), the demand for oil is expected to increase until 2020 1.2 million barrels/day (average) each year and this estimation can be extended to 2024. True, if we add up all these increases from 2015 to 2024, we end up with 11 mbd, offset by 2.2 mbd reduction, due to EVs, and a net increase in demand of 8.8 mbd. However, these numbers are part of a story IEA and "Big Oil" have been telling us since many years ago that boils down to a situation of "business as usual". I have reviewed the demand figures in the last 5 OMTMRs and found the same kind of "inertial" growth in the demand for oil. But the fact of the matter is that much has changed in the world since EVs began to ramp up in 2015. And here we need to take a close look at China, where the negative correlation between adoption of EVs and "renewables" and the demand for oil has become more and more apparent in recent times. The question is when these events will start to be accounted for by IEA's statistics."
  • Henry on March 08 2017 said:
    If I may a few relevant comments. This article was written on a oil industry site. The article used sources from oil companies. Oil companies have nothing to do with the EV growth and are powerless to stop or limit it. The car manufacturer's control the EV growth and they are building them. Car companies m,ad the demand for oil and they can just as easy remove it and any oil company is powerless to stop it. The Ford CEO said this a few weeks ago, "In less than 20 years there will be more electrified vehicles on the market than traditional gas-powered cars, Ford CEO Mark Fields told Business Insider during a recent interview.

    "Our view is that the industry offerings, 15 years from now, is that there are going to be more electrified offerings than there are internal combustion engines," Fields said.

    So go ahead and believe the oil companies and the ones who speak for them if you like. The car companies say otherwise.
  • WDL on March 13 2017 said:
    I'll believe that EVs are the wave of the future when a EV pickup or SUV that can pull a horse trailer loaded with three horses through 4" of snow has become available.
  • Al Barrow on March 26 2017 said:
    Author is full of crap!!! The technology to separate from the grid is already here for the last 30 years. EV cars, buses and homes can use either Tesla batteries or some other devices to power them and to store that energy until needed.

    The Oil Companies keep trying to stop people from using batteries, flywheels, solar and wind generation to keep their industries from becoming extinct. Social needs and survival concerns will push or force those technologies to be made available to the public.

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