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Lower oil prices won’t stop massive shift to electric vehicles

Volkswagen’s chief strategist this week said that even a yearlong slump in oil prices will not slow down the company’s shift to EVs. VW and nearly every other major automaker have environmental goals that eclipse any short-term impacts from lower prices at the pumps. And the only way to achieve reduced emissions is with electric powertrains.

According to AAA, gas prices in the US hit a new low for the year at $2.30 on Friday.

Michael Jost, VW’s strategy chief, told reporters in Berlin yesterday, “Dips [in oil and gasoline prices might] last a month, or some months, or maybe a year.” But he said, oil “won’t get cheaper” in the long run — and won’t alter the company’s CO2 reduction goals.

We have a clear commitment to become CO2 neutral by 2050, and there is no alternative to our electric-car strategy to achieve this.

Crude oil prices have lost about a quarter of its value this week due to decreased energy demand as the coronavirus dampens the global economy. The pandemic also creates threats to the EV supply chain.

Jost said that Volkswagen is now developing its last set of pure combustion-engine cars for the mass market. Those will likely hit the market by 2026. Jost noted that pure EVs are at “the core” of Volkswagen’s strategy, but the company will also develop plug-in hybrids.

Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives told Axios, specifically calling out Tesla:

For many years the theory is that low oil and gas is not good for EV demand from a high level.

I believe on the margin some customers will stay away from EV in light of cheap gas, but overall the environmental movement and next-generation technology and design behind Tesla neutralizes most of this dynamic.

UBS analysts Paul Gong, Patrick Hummel, and Kohei Takahashi said that lower oil prices could be a factor in the US, but that’s less likely for the world’s two biggest EV markets — China and Europe. UBS analysts said:

Strategically, the Chinese government aims to develop a globally competitive auto industry in the EV era, and we believe continuous efficiency gain and cost cuts along the EV supply chain is much more predictable than oil price fluctuations.

Our conviction remains unchanged in the multiyear migration to electric vehicles led by Europe and China.

Meanwhile, in Europe, as Volkswagen indicated, the biggest driver of EV sales is compliance with stricter CO2-emission levels.

Besides, in the long run, the steady decline in EV battery prices is likely to outpace temporary declines in oil prices. As BloombergNEF points out, oil might have dropped 24% in recent weeks. But lithium-ion oil prices have fallen by that level every year since 2014.

BloombergNEV declining battery prices

Electrek’s Take

Most analysts overestimate how sensitive car buyers are to falling gas prices.

That’s especially true for the next wave of EV buyers who are motivated by a broader desire to reduce emissions, adopt new technology, drive quick and quiet cars, and gain the convenience of recharging at home.

Few, if any, EV buyers are primarily motivated by precise total-cost-of-ownership calculations. And those who make those determinations understand that fuel and maintenance costs for EV are less than half of the prices for gas-powered cars. Gas prices are unlikely ever to dip far enough to erase those advantages.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.