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Electric Car Threat To Oil Is Wildly Overstated



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.

The global economy, reshaped by the information technology revolution, has generally become less fuel intensive.

One of the most powerful arguments against sustained oil demand growth is the ongoing and expected growth in the electric car market.

By Nawar Alsaadi

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 globalization 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 (NASDAQ:TSLA), 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.

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)


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 mileage 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)

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 (NYSE:STO), 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.

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 favorable 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.

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22 Comments on "Electric Car Threat To Oil Is Wildly Overstated"

  1. Rockman on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 8:50 am 

    “One of the most powerful arguments against sustained oil demand growth is the ongoing and expected growth in the electric car market, a trend…”.

    In reality the “trend” indicates that the impact of EV’s on oil demand is not just insignificant but actually loosing ground at a tremendous rate. In 2016 of the 84 million NEW vehicles less the 2% were EV’s. IOW over 80 million new ICE’s were added to the existing 1.2 BILLION fleet of ICE’s. That represents a significant increase in demand for petroleum based motor fuels…not a decrease. The number of EV’s sold represent just a very slightly lower demand for oil then the increase realized in 2016.

    IOW alt vehicles LOST GROUND last year at a rate of around 70 to 1 over ICE’s. That represents and increasing demand…not a decrease. The CEO of ExxonMobil is not hiding in a bathroom stall whimpering over the growth of EV’s. LOL.

  2. Cloggie on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 9:39 am 

    Healthy growth EV’s in the Netherlands:

    Now 115,000 on 8 million ICE’s.

    In Norway, 20% EV.
    Expectation that eventually H2 will beat EV. Fast tanking, longer range. Cheap production of H2 from offshore wind –> storage buffer.

  3. Midnight Oil on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 10:00 am 

    Even electric toothbrushes are just about 20 to 25 % of market share
    Even though manufacturers introduce new manual brushes at a dizzying rate, improved electric toothbrushes make new converts each year.
    “The best guesses put electric toothbrush users at about 20 percent, maybe as high as 25 percent of the market,” says Alexandra Artisuk, D.D.S.,
    So, enough said…

  4. BobInget on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 11:51 am 

    Natural Gas should be the poster child for denial..

    Even in deepest, darkest, suburbia recharging PV’s
    need yet another fossil fuel…

    In 2015:

    ” Major energy sources and percent share of total U.S. electricity generation in 2015:1. Coal = 33%; Natural gas = 33%; Nuclear = 20%; Hydropower = 6%; Other … Biomass = 1.6%; Geothermal = 0.4%; Solar = 0.6%; Wind = 4.7%.”

    2016, One year ago today;

    Solar. Planned utility-scale solar additions total 9.5 GW in 2016, the most of any single energy source. This level of additions is substantially higher than the 3.1 GW of solar added in 2015 and would be more than the total solar installations for the past three years combined (9.4 GW during 2013-15). The top five states where solar capacity is being added are California (3.9 GW), North Carolina (1.1 GW), Nevada (0.9 GW), Texas (0.7 GW), and Georgia (0.7 GW). These values reflect utility-scale solar capacity additions, and do not include any distributed generation (i.e., rooftop solar). In 2015, nearly 2 GW of distributed solar photovoltaic capacity was added. The same federal tax credit incentives for distributed solar installations available in 2015 are available in 2016.

    Natural gas. Most capacity additions over the past 20 years have been natural gas-fired units. About 8 GW is expected to be added this year, slightly above the 7.8 GW average annual additions over the previous five years. Four states plan to add more than 1 GW of natural gas-fired capacity this year: Pennsylvania (1.6 GW), Virginia (1.4 GW), Florida (1.3 GW), and Texas (1.1 GW).

    Wind. Additions of wind capacity are expected to be slightly lower than in 2015, when 8.1 GW of wind made up by far the largest portion of 2015 capacity additions. Wind capacity additions in 2016 are expected to total 6.8 GW. Most wind additions are found in the Plains region between the Dakotas and Minnesota, south to Texas and eastern New Mexico.

    Nuclear. Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 2 nuclear facility in southeastern Tennessee, with a summer nameplate capacity of 1.1 GW, is expected to begin commercial operation in June 2016. When Watts Bar 2 comes online, it will be the first new nuclear reactor brought online in the United States in 20 years. The most recent reactor to come online was Watts Bar 1 in May 1996.

  5. BobInget on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 12:10 pm 

    Oh, I think you should know, the author, Nawar Alsaadi
    is an oil investor of some (positive) repute.
    His article generated as much interest in investor chat-rooms as the last lifeboat on a sinking super tanker.

    In this post fact age it’s a fine day when one lays out proof and signs his or her name. Rare indeed.

    We, individually, are heavy investors in one particular Canadian oil and gas company… full discloser..

  6. Hawkcreek on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 12:18 pm 

    I don’t see any real EV adoption increase until it is obvious there is a real cost or convenience benefit to the typical consumer. We’re kinda built that way.
    I just bought a new 2017 Toyota for my granddaughter for 20K, and wouldn’t even consider an EV unless she could come home from college on a full charge.
    I know, things will change, but not today, or tomorrow either.

  7. Rockman on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 2:37 pm 

    Cloggie – I don;t think I would characterize EV sales in the Netherlands as “healthier”… just not as pathetic. LOL.

    “Altogether, sales are down year-on-year (YoY) by 66% compared to June 2015. Total electric vehicle sales for the month in the Netherlands were 899 units — with the share of the total market held by electric vehicles falling by 0.03% to 2.36%.”

    IOW for every 100 new EV’s that hit the road about 4,200 new ICE’s were added. Regardless of the % increase of EV sales they are still constantly loosing ground to fossil fuel burners.

  8. Cloggie on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 2:46 pm 

    Rockman, price is a very important consideration. Guess what?

    The Tesla 3 ($35k, 350 km range) is really cheaper than its predecessors. In 2015 a “pathetic” 115,000 EV were sold in in the US in 2015.

    In contrast, in a few days 232,000 Tesla 3 were sold (ordered rather).

    BMW and GM are about to release cheaper models as well.

    Too early to write off EV’s.

  9. Cloggie on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 2:50 pm 

    China meanwhile is able to produce EV’s for a few thousand euro:

    Very small, low speed (60 mph). Suitable for city traffic.

    Probably very good for the EV-statistics worldwide.

  10. rockman on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 4:13 pm 

    Cloggie – “Too early to write off EV’s.” Not writing them off at all. Just pointing out the fact that for every one new EV that is sold many times more ICE’s are being added. Even if 42 MILLION (instead of 1.8 million) of the new vehicles sold last year in the US were EV’s then 42 MILLION ICE’s still would have been added to the fleet. Which means 42 MILLION additional GHG generators hit the road. So even at the 50% sales levels motorized transportation is still increasing its negative effects on the climate. And even at the point of EV’s making up 99% of the market the situation would still be getting worse since hundreds of millions of ICE’s would still be on the road. It would take 10+ years for EV’s to replace the existing ICE’s if every vehicle sold were an EV. Even then the situation would continue to get worse if a significant amount of the electricity powering those EV’s came from fossil fueled plants.

    So no: it is very unlikely the EV’s will decrease GHG emissions from our transportation for many, many decades…if ever. At very best they might slightly decrease how fast the situation is GETTING WORSE.

  11. makati1 on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 5:19 pm 

    rockman, you will never convince the techies that they are NOT going to save the planet. I gave up long ago. At best they will slow the decline a bit. At worse, their nuclear tech will fry us quicker.

    They do not/will not compare ‘TOTAL’ WORLD ENERGY USE with ALTERNATE/RENEWABLE ‘ELECTRIC’ USE because they would realize they believe in an impossible future. Solar and others may extend their lifestyle a few years, but that is all. But then, that may be all the ‘future’ we have left.

  12. peakyeast on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 6:14 pm 

    Lets face it: There is no economic benefit in saving civlisation and humanity. It is simply too expensive…

    Killing civilisation: Thats where the real profit lies.

  13. Anonymous on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 6:53 pm 


    -Oil burning cars, consume oil.

    -EVs, also burn oil. They also burn uranium, coal, and all the other oil-based feedstocks *cars* consume. They just do it in slightly differing ways than direct oil burners do.

    The fact that EVs have *some* operational characteristics that makes them less obnoxious than oil burners, does not change that fact one bit. Even if 100% of all ‘cars’ were EVs, they still wouldn’t put the uS oil cartel out of business, as those EVs would still require massive inputs of oil to build, maintain and support.

    EVs are window dressing, less visibly offensive that direct oil burners to be sure, but are still 100% reliant on oil to even exist. No matter how much creationist retards like clogged drains scream. “No they dont!”(tm)

    Denial is not a river in Egypt clogged pipes.

  14. makati1 on Sat, 4th Mar 2017 7:07 pm 

    An EV without a highway or bridge would be worthless. Highways are oil. Either asphalt or concrete. 1 cu.yd. of concrete takes 1 bbl. of oil to exist. Asphalt is oil. Bridges are concrete and steel. Steel is a product of FF. Lots of FF. And on and on.

  15. Kenz300 on Sun, 5th Mar 2017 4:23 pm 

    Electric cars, bikes and mass transit are the future. Fossil fuel ICE cars are the past.

    Think teen agers vs your grand father. Cell phones vs land lines.

    NO EMISSIONS.. Climate change is real.

    Save money. No stopping at gas stations. No oil changes Less overall maintenance.

  16. Cloggie on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 7:41 am 

    Distribution EVs world-wide:

    China, EU and US have comparable numbers on their respective roads.

    Per capita the clear winner is Norway, followed by the Netherlands 2nd and the US 3rd.

  17. Cloggie on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 10:51 am 

    US Electric Car Sales Up 68% In February (year to year).

  18. GregT on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 10:57 am 


    “In the International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) Reference case, world net electricity generation increases 69% by 2040, from 21.6 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2012 to 25.8 trillion kWh in 2020 and 36.5 trillion kWh in 2040. Electricity is the world’s fastest-growing form of end-use energy consumption, as it has been for many decades.”

    ‘Economic growth is an important factor in electricity demand growth.”

    “Coal continues to be the largest single fuel used for electricity generation worldwide in the IEO2016 Reference case until the end of the projection period, with renewable generation beginning to surpass coal-fired generation in 2040. Coal-fired generation, which accounted for 40% of total world electricity generation in 2012, declines to 29% of the total in 2040 in the Reference case, despite a continued increase in total coal-fired electricity generation from 8.6 trillion kWh in 2012 to 9.7 trillion kWh in 2020 and 10.6 trillion kWh in 2040. Total electricity generation from coal in 2040 is 23% above the 2012 total.”

    So if ~40% of the world’s electricity is currently generated with coal, and ~24% continues to be utilized by 2040, then what, exactly, is the point in putting hundreds of millions more EVs on the world’s roads?

  19. GregT on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 11:07 am 

    And Cloggie,

    As long as demand for electricity continues to grow faster than alternates are being built out, fossil fuel usage will continue to grow. Alternate electric power generation is adding to the global energy mix, it is not replacing fossil fuels.

  20. Cloggie on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 11:18 am 

    Greg, that is all true. But it is important to provide for a sufficient alt-electricity base to prevent a collapse of society, not to satisfy the desire of eternal infinite economic growth. So we should continue to implement alt-energy, regardless of fossil fuel consumption growth.

    It remains to be seen if in 2040 coal consumption will increase with 23% in the light of climate change, assumed that increased CO2 is indeed the only/main driving factor in GW/CC.

  21. GregT on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 11:36 am 

    “So we should continue to implement alt-energy, regardless of fossil fuel consumption growth.”

    Completely agree.


    “it is important to provide for a sufficient alt-electricity base to prevent a collapse of society, not to satisfy the desire of eternal infinite economic growth.”

    Without economic growth, society (AWKI) will collapse. That’s the nature of the beast, in a society that is predicated entirely on infinite exponential growth. Without growth our monetary systems implode, savings evaporate, and governments become insolvent, leading to more of what we are beginning to witness already. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a steady state economic system, but in order for that to happen, the current system must collapse first, either voluntarily or not. Either way, I see a dark age for a long period of time before any light at the end of the tunnel. Also, those who are at the top of our current system, are the ones with the most to lose if the growth paradigm was brought to an end. It is simply not in their best interests.

  22. Apneaman on Mon, 6th Mar 2017 11:51 am 

    clog, no one will be counting coal in 2040.

    I found this link to a site I know you will love and cherish – “In Defence of Marxisim”

    Capitalism’s $1.3 Trillion Unicorn Problem

    “The term “unicorn” describes a private-venture-capital–funded startup with an extremely high valuation: over $1 billion”

    “From fewer than ten in 2010, there are now 229 unicorns worldwide, with half based in California alone. ”

    If I come across others that are similar, I will be sure to share them with you.

    Jawohl hair clog!

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