Nonsense

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

This is the futuristic forecast by Stanford University economist Tony Seba. His report, with the deceptively bland title Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, has gone viral in green circles and is causing spasms of anxiety in the established industries.

There’s a lot more technological inertia in an economy than that.

We’ve not actually got a viable electric car as yet. That is, one which people will willingly buy unsubsidised. OK, but not one in volume. The Model T was probably the first mass market car, came out in 1913. When was the last pony trap sold? As something other than a toy or recreation? 1930s sometime for the US and UK maybe? Amish are fun but don’t count here.

Technological change just doesn’t happen that fast.

69 comments on “Nonsense

  1. Technological change just doesn’t happen that fast.

    Apart from anything else, they can’t make all the extra lektric they will need in that timescale either…

  2. An “expert” telling greenies what they want to hear. May I punt Futurebabble by Dan Gardner, subtitled Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe Them Anyway? Most enjoyable.

  3. More importantly, a Model T was a major upgrade over a horse and cart. Is an electric car really a significant change from the sunk cost put into an existing petrol car?

    There might well be people who will change when that change is a logical step, hell, maybe even some fleets will change over quite quickly. I just can’t see a billion motor vehicles turning over in a decade.

    We have a good example of the likely uptake rate in the market for forklifts. These are almost the perfect market for electric, and we still see a lot of petrol/LPG being purchased new.

  4. Isn’t there something about the torque curve of an electric engine compared with Diesel that makes it unlikely to take over in, say, the freight world? Leaving aside the problem of recharging a truck that is travelling from Turkey to UK twice a week

  5. All the Windows XP in the NHS is a perfect example of technological inertia when Windows 10 was being dished out for free. Quite simply for range and versatility, the internal combustion engine beats electrical.

  6. In 2013 I paid £2000 for an electric bike, supposed to be top of the range, Bosch motor, Shimano 8-speed hub, yadda yadda yadda. It went wrong within the first month and a few weeks ago the entire drive system with (teensy computer) went tits up, effectively making the fucking thing worthless since it was out of warranty, repairs would have cost £400+, the machine (sans battery) weighed about 55 lb and I am far enough away from the nearest qualified dealer that I’d have had to ship it. Thus I dismantled said ebike and took it to the council tip, and have happily reverted to using my incredibly simple, reliable and robust single-speed pushbike.

    The technology of the safety bike is now about 140 years old; that of fossil-fuelled cars only slightly less. E-vehicles can only come onstream as reliable transport in many years’ time, and then only if people continue in the delusion that electric transportation doesn’t run primarily on coal.

  7. Nit going to happen, if only because if the electricity production required and the improvements in the grid required to support the charging points required, along with the points of course. One very 3 to 4 yards down every suburban street where people park their cars overnight.

    The UK would need the equivalent of 20 additional nuclear power stations the size of Hinkley Point C, London alone would require the equivalent of 2. Who is going to build them and where? How long will it take and who pays?

    A cademic pipe dreams divorced from all reality….

    https://www.airport-pickups-london.com/News/uk-needs-20-more-nuclear-stations-to-operate-all-electric-fleet

  8. The big problem with Electric cars is that they’re not yet a “straight swap” for proper cars.

    My current motor’s a 12 year old Ford Focus 1.6 Petrol. It’ll do about 400 miles to a tank of dino juice and takes about 5-minutes to refuel.

    An equivalent electric car however will struggle to do 100 miles to a charge, and recharging it takes about 45 minutes at best if you have access to a high speed charger. If not then recharging is measured in hours.

    Current electric cars are fine for pootling down to the shops, work or train station where you know A: how far you’re going and B: if there’s a charging point at the other end. They’re no use to anyone who might want to drive 150+ miles regularly (say to see family, holidays or work) and the purchase price is still a fair bit more than a perfectly good petrol or diesel car

  9. Can somebody please enlighten me on three points? How much would the battery of a fifty-ton truck weight, if it had the same speed and acceleration as its diesel-powered equivalent? What would its range between recharging points be? And how long would it take for a full recharge?

  10. Joke, obviously. Electric cars are still more environmentally intensive than your standard petrol version. So all electric would be a fairly backward step.

  11. I have seen Tony Seba speak a couple of times and his youtube stuff is very interesting. He does make the point that if you look at the Easter day parade in NY in 1908 it’s a question of spot the car, but by 1913 it’s spot the horse. If the technology works, then it takes over very quickly. (An interesting aside imho, but the first ever public health conference was in NY in around 1898 and it was concerned with the hazards from horse manure – piled 60 feet high in vacant lots in Manhattan in the summer, leading to literally billions of flies, disease, dead horses everywhere etc. Same in London – the great horse manure crisis of 1908 – seriously. The conclusion was that we should stop having horses. The answer as ever was technology). I think that hybrid will bridge the gap between ICE and pure EV. To take an analogy, people said CD players would never replace VHS because you couldn’t record on them. Then along came hard disk recorders, which killed VHS and worked in tandem with CDs but as an interim step to where we are now with streaming. The best selling car in Japan today is a Nissan e-note, which is basically an electric motor, but powered by small (and cheap) batteries that are kept charged by a traditional petrol engine that operates under no load as a dynamo. This means a range of around 550 miles so no range anxiety (the EV equivalent of ‘can’t record) and it is the same price as an ‘ordinary car’. However, it has all the torque, quick acceleration, regenerative braking and low maintenance of a pure EV. Once you have had that, the trad ICE will become only for the petrolheads. It has an mpg figure of around 90, so in that sense Tony Seba is right, the oil industry is in trouble. The current US vehicle fleet averages 25mpg, there is no way that miles driven is going to offset a tripling of fuel efficiency. Every Uber type driver is going to go for fuel efficiency, local authorities are going to mandate zero emission public service vehicles and with autonomous electric buses mean every city gets a tram system without having to lay rails. Roadside emissions are the 21st century equivalent of horse manure – a health hazard that will be solved by a combination of policy and technology.

  12. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

    I wish they’d tell my management that. I am being nagged to do a study related to an oilfield that wouldn’t even come online in eight years. I think I’ll forward them this article and go down the pub.

  13. After another coffee I realise that my question was not about independent variables. Rephrasing it: given acceptable range, speed and acceleration, how much would the battery of a fifty-ton truck weight, and how long would it take to recharge?

  14. It has an mpg figure of around 90, so in that sense Tony Seba is right, the oil industry is in trouble.

    It’s not. Really, it’s not. We might find a drop in demand for our products, but how are aircraft and ships going to be powered? And LNG isn’t going anywhere. A drop in crude prices and a consolidation of the industry would actually be a good thing IMO, decades of high oil prices have left the industry looking more like the NHS than Aldi.

  15. autonomous electric buses mean every city gets a tram system without having to lay rails

    Autonomous electric buses. Without rails. In a city centre. Good luck with that.

  16. I agree with your basic point Tim, but I think this is incorrect:

    “We’ve not actually got a viable electric car as yet. That is, one which people will willingly buy unsubsidised.”

    Base price for a Tesla Model S is about 60k. Someone spending that much money on a car probably doesn’t care that much about 5k off plus no congestion charge. There’d be fewer sales, not none.

  17. It’s the charging time that’s the killer. Petrol has ten times the energy density of TNT and you can top up a tank in a couple of minutes.

  18. If the oil and petroleum industries are in trouble the biggest losers will be treasuries given the tax take on fuel.

  19. Plus electric cars have a real problem secondhand as by then the battery is stuffed. You’ll be able to trade it in but not sell it privately.

  20. Um, what are we going to eat? There’s no sign of an electric tractor anywhere even on the horizon. No tractors = no food = no people pretty quickly.

  21. Mark T, point noted about a small car designed for urban use. I think I have read that a conventional Note rates at 60mpg against 90, so it is not quite the game-changer. But while most people fixate on private cars, it is surely freight traffic that counts. This sort of solution might work for white van man but is it scalable for HGVs and road warriors?

  22. “If the technology works, then it takes over very quickly.”

    Depends on how much of an advantage the new technology provides. As David Moore says, for most people an electric isn’t so obviously superior to a petrol (and has other disadvantages) so people aren’t going to be rushing out buying them straight away. Whereas the car had huge advantages over the horse.

    “the Easter day parade in NY in 1908 it’s a question of spot the car, but by 1913 it’s spot the horse.”

    That’s one photo, no doubt carefully selected by him. Horse use didn’t die out overnight everywhere.

    Another issue is the huge amounts of intertia in the car factories. It takes years to get major change affected. Cars are planned a long way ahead. Plus, as others have said, there are huge changes required in infrastructure required (electricty generation, charging points).

  23. If oil prices collapse, won’t that be an incentive to buy oil-derivative (ie, petrol, derv)-powered cars?

  24. TimNewman: “Autonomous electric buses. Without rails. In a city centre. Good luck with that.”

    Undertakers will be the new oligarchs!

  25. I’m too young to have seen horse-drawn agriculture in Britain but I did see horse-drawn and oxen-drawn in Germany. Always technologically backwards those krauts, eh?

    I can remember horse-drawn milk deliveries and rag-and-bone men in Britain. Also beer deliveries, but that (I assume) was a marketing stunt not an economic choice.

    We can get stuff delivered hereabouts by drone, don’cha know?

  26. The US Army was short of horses in WW1. So much for horses having taken over in 1913 in the US.

    The Germans, hardly the least industrial country in the world, used plenty of horses in WW2 — most of their transport was horse drawn. Even at the end they had cavalry divisions.

    The motorcar only really took over after the (2nd) war.

  27. Britain’s transportation future is the donkey. Whether the car is killed by Green insanity and the Tories who play along with them or just government regulating the industry to death – or just as inevitably, the lack of enough White people with IQs over room temperature to keep modern civilisation working, there is no way that cars will be anything but rusting piles of junk by the turn of the next century at the latest.

  28. monoi,
    Yes, it’s impressive how every small town in France has a tram network. Valenciennes, with a population under 50,000 (or 200,000 if you include the entire agglomération) has two tram routes. Similar figures apply for Besançon, Angers, and Caen; each of which has its own tram network. There’s even a tram network under construction on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

    Capital costs aside, the running costs must make a significant dent in French town hall budgets.

  29. Young’s maybe? Used to insist that he shire horses were cheaper for anyone 4 miles or less than the brewery. And that was only a couple of decades back

  30. I’m in favour of electric buses. They’re reasonably practical, good for the environment and probably even save some money. But most importantly, once you have electric buses, you kill off an argument from the tram twats.

  31. Seems to me that technological changes of this sort follow an S-curve. Most likely we are arriving at the first inflection where the rate fo change starts to accelerate.

    At about 80% of the way through the change there will be another inflection point and the rate of change will slow again and the last few hold outs will resist for decades.

    Having said that a useful comparison would be with the digital camera, which in the space of less than 20 years I suppose almost completely eliminated proper photgraphy, only to be replaced in its turn by the mobile phone.

    But is it progress? In 100 years from now there will be more photos available of the 1920s than of the 2020s – an nobody will know what we looked like. Probably a good thing.

  32. The piece is by Ambrose Evans-Dullard. He’s the Telegraph’s equivalent of Polly Toynbee. Invariably, whatever he writes is completely wrong.

    Autonomous cars? “Google, Apple, and Foxconn” might be building bubble cars to trundle around California. They won’t take you serious distances at useful speed. You can use a light foot to extend range on the run to work or the shops and back. Geting a 38 tonne truck over the Alps or pulling a 5-furrow plough takes serious power for a full working day. Batteries don’t cut the mustard. He’s been drinking the green-ade (yet again).

    Churnalism at its worst.

  33. From memory quite a few breweries still use horses for local deliveries – Harveys, Robinsons, J W Lees, Wadsworth off the top of my head.

    As per BiW it’s mostly marketing – but since all the examples I can think of are traditional breweries that makes sense.

  34. Having said that a useful comparison would be with the digital camera, which in the space of less than 20 years I suppose almost completely eliminated proper photography

    I know what you mean, but of course “photography” has little to do with the hardware.

    And hence, modern hardware hasn’t eliminated photography all; it’s simply added something “popular”, but which itself in fact predates digital (although digital has facilitated it 100-fold and more).

    Unless you are talking about the “printing” (your reference to 1920’s vs 2020’s)? But which is then not specific purely to photography but to a lot of what happens in the modern world (I increasingly rarely print anything off in business, it’s all electronic, compared to 20 years ago).

  35. Vaux were still running horse deliveries from their Sunderland brewery to the town centre in the late 1990’s, although when that closed in 1999 I think they were the last commercial horse drawn beer deliveries not operated for purely PR and Marketing purposes.

    There was always and element of PR / Marketing / Theatre in the brewing industry where everybody was trying to be traditional or authentic after the decimation of the industry by the big brewers and the disastrous move from tied pubs to PubCo’s.

  36. If it causes the Saudis to revert to eating sand and buggering camels, then roll on.

  37. If it causes the Saudis to revert to only eating sand and buggering camels, then roll on.

    FTFY

  38. Unfortunately a non-viable solution is no bar to the political elites trying to make it happen. I doubt if any MP has even heard of Jevons paradox. Although of course it could be this is a clever double bluff, and they are aware of what would happen, and so cars would have to be restricted to essential users, such as themselves.

    This rush to electric motors also ignores the fact that there is still scope to improve the efficiency of the ICE. That, and of course a single body with a certified cause of death of air pollution has yet to be produced.

  39. ‘His report . . . has gone viral in green circles and is causing spasms of anxiety in the established industries’

    No, not really.

    Reports of their demise are grossly exaggerated.

  40. Re digital cameras:

    Some years ago a marketing guy told me that boys’ toys needed to be in the £300 to £500 to get mass market penetration as that was the ABC1 discretionary spend level. It’s about the same as a Premiership club season ticket.

    So that’s where digital cameras came in after they’d milked the pro market.

  41. I suspect that with the rising wealth of China and India the demand for powered transport will increase. And they’ll want a cheap system, at least until they get really rich. There’s no prospect of a charging network there, so ice it will be.
    Electric cars eliminate petrol and diesel use, but not fuel use. They depend on electricity mostly from coal, gas and nuclear- and the “third world” has been clear it ain’t cutting its own CO2 emissions, so don’t expect wind or solar to play much of a part.
    Hybrids are more economical in stop start motoring, so I guess they have a future there, but in long distance driving they, like their fully electric cousins, are lumbered with carting a big heavy battery and are less economical than a decent ice.
    So, more hybrids round town, more ice worldwide is my prediction. Unless public transport is much improved which would limit the growth of hybrids​.

  42. Worth noting that Tony Seba as well as being an “economist” (and I think that might be in the Ritchie sense) is an entrepreneur with green investments. The phrase “talking your own book” possibly leaps to mind

    “Tony Seba has been an advisor to policy-makers, investors, and corporations. He been an advisor in the development of more than 400 MW of Wind and Solar Power. He is on the board of directors or advisory boards of CloudM, a Health and Safety software company; Powerhouse, a solar incubator and accelerator; Mercatus, an Energy Investment Management software company; Everblaze Energy, a connected solar device startup company, and Hackidemia, an educational lab focused on teaching children hands-on STEM-based invention skills. He was previously on the Board of Directors of the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team and the San Francisco Jazz Organization. He has worked on ACT projects for organizations such as Stanford Office of Technology Licensing, Yerba Buena Center for The Arts and Girls Scouts USA.”,/i>

  43. “Autonomous electric buses. Without rails. In a city centre. Good luck with that.”

    The good luck coming with that being the speedy, virtual extinction of the Men in Lycra.

  44. The modern electric “car” –so -called– cannot even match the London to Edinburgh travel time of an 1830s coach and horses run.

    Seba is an eco-dung beetle.

  45. Oh, & a fair proportion of obsessive Whatsappers & Twatterers.
    Can it come too soon?

  46. Incidentally, had a hybrid on hire, recently, for a 500km each way, overnight jaunt. Pleasantly surprised. For what purported to be a small family hatch, it went like shit off a shovel. Fuel consumption? Complicated by getting over the hump east of Granada & our coastal range. And my temptation to apply excessive welly at every opportunity. But probably less than an equivalent ICE, although loads more fun.;

  47. Stephen,

    It appears everyone has ignored you. Using current battery technology the designs I have seen can fit 40-80 miles of battery capacity into an OTR cab design. American long haul trucking wants at least 600 miles. 600 miles allows a driver to work a full day without having to wait excessively for recharges. When the truck can recharge while the driver sleeps charging time becomes far less important. To get that type of range the only current option is to sacrifice trailer space for batteries. The problem with that is now we need a much larger fleet of trucks and the cost of trailers explodes.

    The problem with electric trucks is battery energy densities. If we can improve that by an order of magnitude, at a comparable cost to existing diesel rigs, long-haul truckers will consider electric. At this point only a handful of the total trucking routes can change. Those that can aren’t really considering it because it is nice to have resale value.

    No, we are not spending trillions electrifying roads in fly-over country.

  48. Bis, given that no one under 35 is able to walk down a street without ear buds while looking at a screen 3 inches from their faces, an entire generation could be eliminated within weeks

  49. White van man at this point could see benefits depending on his particular use case. The problem is the limited resale opportunities. Far too often people just ignore the second hand market when considering electric vehicles.

  50. True LY. An electric van with a defunct battery is probably worse than a van with a smashed gearbox

  51. Given how hard it is to dispose of a laptop, drive to a collection spot that is only available once every three months, I can easily see disposal costs of EV’s running thousands.

    Yes. I have a large pile of E-waste because I always forget that my one chance to get rid of it this season is today. Instead, when I’m feeling squirrelly, I break things down so they are small enough to fit in the normal garbage. I’d put it in the recycling bin but they don’t take it. Even if they did any component with scrap value has already been sold. If I have to spend the time tearing something apart so it can be mixed with kitchen waste I am keeping the money for the parts that are worth selling.

  52. ‘Cept Tesla.

    Resale on Tesla is good. All other plug in electrics depreciate catastrophically.

  53. LY: “The problem with electric trucks is battery energy densities. If we can improve that by an order of magnitude, at a comparable cost to existing diesel rigs, long-haul truckers will consider electric.”

    Well, yes, and if we can come up with a perpetual motion machine, even better. Batteries are crap and are likely to remain crap for the foreseeable future.

  54. “The problem with electric trucks is battery energy densities. If we can improve that by an order of magnitude, at a comparable cost to existing diesel rigs, long-haul truckers will consider electric.”

    The energy density of gasoline is around 4/5 times TNT.What stops it all coming out in one go, is limited by its access to atmospheric oxgen. Why worst case, under normal conditions, the excursion of a tank of fuel provides a fair size fire but doesn’t level a city block. Temperatures get up to a couple thousand degrees. A battery with an energy density equivalent to gasoline & capable of being recharged in a short period might also be a battery capable of discharging in a short period. Or maybe, all at once. Arc temperatures can run 20,000 degrees & up. Worth reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arc_flash for an idea what that can do.

  55. Bis… Your last post might be deemed incitement for someone on the Aspy spectrum…. Did they do it on mythbusters?

  56. If I asked Lord Murphy to put his bellend near an arc….. Would that fly for you or anyone dodgy that you might happen to know or be somehow aware of?

  57. There’s a lot of silly naysaying going on here – i’m more used to good understanding of tech on this blog. ( FFS even TN is at it ! )

    Electric motor is superior/vastly superior to ICE in every way – the only issues are electric cell capacity and how the electricity is generated and how the grid can handle it.

    Prius is already the car of choice for minicab drivers here in London, though I assume that they are driven all day and so are petrol electric rather than mains electric.

    Haulage is particularly unsuited because the long distance cruising keeps the ICE in its sweet spot ( negating much of the mechanical superiority of electric motors ) and there’s real costs to carrying the extra weight of battery and any time lost to charging. AFAIK, no hauliers nor farmers are using EV to pull the heavy load, because a barrel of diesel oil contains so very much energy.

    Smart grid plays nice with wind and need to charge cars. (im on record hereabouts predicting that we are going to end up with 200% wind and deep (100%) gas backup)

    I had wondered in past decades that it might become normal to swap out a half-ton of battery at the filling station ( 2 minutes ?), but we are not seeing that at all. Also makes is possible to charge the swapped-out batteries at night when the grid and generators have capacity.

    EV, like self-drive, is coming, its a no-brainer, but in 8 years – NAHHHHHHHHH, no, but no missus, batteries aren’t good enough yet. We will see more and more hybrids though.

  58. @rocco “Your last post might be deemed incitement for someone on the Aspy spectrum…. Did they do it on mythbusters?”

    – i have spent some time on youtube looking at people doing daft things with lithium cells – tbh, most disappointing – they just swell up and burn.

    Cup of petrol more dangerous than laptop battery.

  59. Maybe we should consider how long it took electric overhead buses to die out or some other technology, they still use them in major routes locally and I’ve seen photos of the old repair crews using horse and cart 100 years ago to maintain the cables at that time

  60. I wasn’t claiming I have magic bullet that can increase energy densities tenfold. That is what it would take in order to see the trucking industry seriously consider changing long-haul trucks to electric. Perhaps one of the super batteries or capacitors we keep hearing about might finally be ready to enter the market. Even if the miracle battery goes on sale tomorrow it is still going to take decades to make the number needed.

    In other words, don’t sell your shares in diesel just yet.

  61. Rocco,

    Valid point. I see no reason to bring the A word into this though. I am well aware of limitations of my communications abilities. Tis but a simple misunderstanding between friends.

    To clarify, I felt it unnecessary to explore the explosion risks. There aren’t batteries on the market that have the necessary energy density, at least at the price needed for commercial trucking adoption. I might as well just do an analysis of the danger of exploding unicorn farts.

  62. “Electric motor is superior/vastly superior to ICE in every way”

    The market place says you are wrong. Stupid wrong.

  63. @Gamecock – electric motors have a very flat torque curve – which is simply killer compared to ICE and also power to weight ratio is good (ignoring fuel/battery weight considerations, which we cant) – and fewer moving parts and no reciprocating parts and doesn’t get so hot.

    EV has been a holy grail of auto engineers ever since auto engineers, and still is now.

    We are only waiting for the batteries, which takes us back to where we started.

  64. “electric motors have a very flat torque curve – which is simply killer compared to ICE and also power to weight ratio is good (ignoring fuel/battery weight considerations, which we cant) – and fewer moving parts and no reciprocating parts and doesn’t get so hot.”

    Thats weird cos I’m sure I’ve had an electric motor overheat and burn out………..must have imagined it I suppose.

  65. Jim, yes, electric motors can and do burn out, but don’t usually have a cooling system as they don’t generally need one, most ICE have a cooling system as they do generally need one.

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