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Cheap Electric Cars Could Trigger Next Oil Price Crash

electric vehicles will dominateElectric vehicles could be cheaper than conventional cars by 2022—and when that day comes, the ensuing multi-million-barrel oil glut could trigger the next oil price crash, Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects in a report released Thursday.

“In the next few years, the cost-of-ownership advantage will continue to lie with conventional cars, and we therefore don’t expect EVs to exceed 5% of sales in most markets—except where subsidies make up the difference,” said BNEF Senior Analyst Salim Morsy. “However, that cost comparison is set to change radically in the 2020s.”

“Lithium-ion battery costs have already dropped by 65% since 2010, reaching $350 per kWh in 2015,” added BNEF Lead Analyst Colin McKerracher. “We expect EV battery costs to be well below $120 per kWh by 2030, and to fall further after that as new chemistries come in.”

If that happens, “the total cost of ownership—combining purchase price and running costs—of battery-only cars will dip below those with internal combustion engines in 2022, even if the conventional cars improve their fuel efficiency by 3.5% a year,” The Guardian explains. “The plummeting cost of batteries is key in leading to the tipping point, which would kickstart a mass market for electric vehicles.”

The analysis is based on oil prices in the range of US$50 to $70 per barrel in the 2020s. “If the price is $20, the tipping point is pushed back by between three and nine years,” Carrington writes.

“The report projects that 35% of global new car sales—41 million a year—will be EVs in 2040, with one in four of all cars being an EV by then,” he adds. “This would have a knock-on effect on global energy use, cutting oil consumption by 14% and using 8% of all electricity. New EV sales could be as high as 50% in 2040 if they become widespread in fleets and ride-sharing schemes, or as low as 25% if oil prices remain very low for many years.”

Bloomberg’s own coverage of the release suggests it’s time for oil investors to start paying attention to electric vehicles.

“In the next two years, Tesla and Chevy plan to start selling electric cars with a range of more than 200 miles priced in the $30,000 range,” the agency notes. “Ford is investing billions, Volkswagen is investing billions, and Nissan and BMW are investing billions. Nearly every major carmaker—as well as Apple and Google—is working on the next generation of plug-in cars.”

Yet OPEC assumes EVs will only account for 1% of global car sales in 2040, and Exxon projects a similar future.

“The oil price crash that started in 2014 was caused by a glut of unwanted oil, as producers started cranking out about two million barrels a day more than the market supported,” Randall writes. “Nobody saw it coming, despite the massively expanding oil fields across North America. The question is: How soon could electric vehicles trigger a similar oil glut by reducing demand by the same two million barrels?”

Sooner than anyone thinks, BNEF concludes.