walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Bloomberg and electric cars

Last December, Bloomberg was producing an article about how Maine purchasers of electric vehicles were bummed about the performance degradation in cold weather (hey, I agree -- it is a bummer).


Now, there's a video and article out suggesting that plug-ins could be a big enough deal in the 2020s to cause the same kind of mismatch between oil supply and demand that the most recent oil crash was caused by (in the 2014-6 case, it was oversupply; in the plug in case, the idea would be a decrease in demand).



This is an interesting thesis. While the video gently mocks the Peak Oil thesis of years gone by, what it fails to note is that the Peak thesis had embedded in it two components. The dominant theme was too great demand and a failure of supply to respond -- and then a failure of demand to down-adjust. In its typical presentation, it was a stupid idea. Of course we were going to down-adjust. When the price of gas spiked in 2007-9, everyone started driving the lowest gas mileage car in the household, buying old good gas mileage cars, etc. I traded in my first Honda Fit for a second Honda Fit -- and the trade in value I got on the first Fit was _greater_ than the amount I paid for it when I bought it. Fits were _that_ highly desired in the market (partly due to low availability).

The primary theme had a lot of people betting on how the world would down-adjust. But a secondary theme was the idea of peak demand accompanying peak oil -- things weren't going to get that out of whack, the world would not end as we drove our gas guzzling SUVs to our subprime mortgaged exurban palaces until some sort of zombie apocalypse happened. A lot of the adjustments anticipated by that crowd indeed came to pass: a generation of people who had a variety of options where to live decided to opt for places with shorter commutes and better access to public transportation. MPG numbers became very important on new car sales. Etc.

Since putting the panels on the roof (thank you, SolarCity, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the feds for various tax credits and financial engineering that made the whole process ludicrously easy and a no-op in terms of cost) and buying the i3 (hey, I was due for a midlife crisis car), I've been pondering what happens if a whole bunch of other people do something similar (probably more along the lines of a Leaf, than a Tesla, but still). The tax credits were due to run out, and they got renewed at least once. The utilities have a tough problem on their hands, trying to manage a completely different pattern of usage than they are accustomed to, which requires re-engineering the grid to manage diffuse inputs -- and re-engineering the fees they charge to better reflect the services provided (power management, not just power supply). And while batteries steadily improve, there is no question that the i3 is no car to be driving long distances on a well below freezing day.

The Bloomberg article is an interesting way to think about the effect of plug ins -- which don't have to be pure play electrics. The Bolt, for example, could be a true game changer.

If it is going to take years for the oversupply to work itself out, and demand is expected to weaken in the face of plug-ins (never mind the slow to seep out effects of changes in CAFE regulations), will the oversupply _ever_ work itself out?
Tags: economics, our future economy today, transportation
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