Monday, November 07, 2016

Oil Industry’s New Threat?  The Global Growth of Electric Cars - The New York Times

In Oslo, a driving-school owner charges an electric Nissan Leaf, which is used in the school's lessons. (Credit: Thomas Haugersveen for The New York Times) Click to Enlarge.
Norway, one of the world’s leading oil producers, has become an unlikely proving ground for the proposition that electric cars are ready for prime time.  Because of big tax breaks, they have come out of nowhere to seize a third of the new-car market in just five years. Politicians and business leaders from all over the world are trekking to this city to see if the trend is real.

Norway is a tiny country, just five million people, but the success of electric cars here is bringing a big question into focus.  Could the world’s transportation system be on the verge of a disruption, one that could slow the growth of oil demand and eventually reverse it?

That question is not just profound, it is urgent.  Nations have pledged to fight global warming, which means sharply paring emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by midcentury, just over three decades away.

If that is to be achieved, some studies suggest, there will be no place for cars burning gasoline or diesel.  They will have to run on electricity, or possibly another alternative fuel, and the electric system itself will have to become much cleaner.

The studies suggest that electric cars must begin to take the majority of the world’s new-car market in the 2030s, becoming the default choice for most families.  Leading oil companies and oil-producing states — Norway excepted — have been vocal in arguing that it will not happen.

As a business strategy, in other words, the big oil companies are counting on political leaders failing to meet their stated goals for limiting climate change.  The stock market seems to be betting with the oil companies.

But out on the roads of several countries, things are getting interesting.

They are getting so interesting, in fact, that several countries — including Norway, Germany and the Netherlands — are talking, however tentatively, about the possibility of banning the sale of new fuel-burning cars.  If enacted, such bans would likely not take effect until 2030.

Counting plug-in hybrids, more than 20 electric-car models are on the market.  Sales are growing worldwide at a rapid pace:  They jumped 49 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the year-earlier period, according to EV Volumes, a global tracking database.

That fast growth is occurring from a tiny base, though, and the cars still represent far less than 1 percent of all cars on the road.  Still, if such rapid growth were to continue, it is not hard to see how the cars could become a disruptive force within a few years.  “These technology disruptions seem like they are not going to happen at all, and then they happen so fast you can’t keep up,” said Rami Syvari, head of international sales for Fortum Charge & Drive, which is racing to install car chargers in Norway.

Read more at Oil Industry’s New Threat? The Global Growth of Electric Cars

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