If I told automotive manufacturers as few as eight years ago that electric cars would go mainstream, achieve 350 miles on a single charge, and all for the same industrial costs as a comparable petrol counterpart, they’d balk and point me to their post-crisis boom (GM notched $4.7 billion in profits in 2010, their first annual net gain in six years). The oil industry would sweep my pleas into the same vat of filth they let loose into the ocean, and underscore their banner decade of dominance, as their five biggest companies netted $1 trillion in profits from 2001-2011.
Assailed by ignorance and years of stagnating, purely incremental changes, these industries have transmuted from invincible titans into struggling innovators trying to catch up to those who sacrificed bureaucracy for technology. China has joined France and Britain in their quest to end sales of gasoline/diesel cars, and its engendered a trickle-down wave of progressivism that has hit car manufacturers themselves. Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo have all committed themselves to the same end goal to join (or compete with) Tesla in their mission to champion sustainable transport and cripple a century-long dependence on oil. Regardless of how you feel – one thing is for absolute certain – the number of EVs on the road are rising, and there isn’t a damn thing oil companies and parochial car manufacturers can do to stop it.
This summer saw an incredible sequence of EV announcements, and studies estimate that the mass sale of these vehicles could reduce oil demand by 8 million barrels (more than what Iran and Iraq currently produce) by 2040. OPEC quintupled their forecast of EV dominance in the last year alone, and BNEF estimates that by 2040, the sales of electric vehicles will supplant those of the gas/diesel variant. Now here’s the funny part – skeptics vehemently express the need for a reality check on the proliferation of EVs. They spew numbers, citing that EVs and hybrids account for 2 million units in an inventory of 1 billion cars. As you can probably tell, we’ve tried our best to fight back with the same statistics-driven mindset, but big oil companies remain steadfast in their predictions.
In fact, BP mentioned that EVs aren’t a “game-changer,” and Shell lauded the efficiency gains in their engine research, promising fuel savings would be 3x those from the sale of EVs. Now here is where I’ll make a few concessions. The long-term success of electric vehicles is highly dependent on several other frameworks like the progressive legislation of governments and the hurried transition of manufacturers from their oil-obsessed mindset. However, juxtaposed with the fact that air pollution has become a prime issue in nearly every modern nation, the case for EV integration, and it’s subsequent need for government support, has bolstered. Clearly, we are headed for profound change – oil companies and their strong proponents don’t deny it – it’s simple a matter of when. Personally, I believe that revolution is imminent, but as BNEF puts it, “this is a trillion dollar question” and someone has to be wrong.
I see both sides, and it’s the duality of my experience that aids in a discussion like this. If you navigate the streets of any Bay Area city, you’ll probably see more Teslas, Chevy Bolts, and Nissan Leafs in one hour than you will in six months elsewhere. In fact, your daily commute will be dominated by them. However, shift a few thousand miles east or even change your hemisphere, and you’ll bear witness to quite the opposite.
There is no denying our melancholy reality; we live in a world still fettered by its dependence on oil, and freeing ourselves will be a monumental challenge. But, winter is coming, and take my word for it, it will be much sooner than we expect. Stay hopeful for the future of EVs, and equally optimistic for the changed mindset of those who seek to diminish it.