Last year, Americans purchased a record 17.5 million cars, vans and light trucks.
Only 115,000, or about seven-tenths of 1 percent, were electric vehicles, whose sales were actually 6 percent lower than in 2014, despite billions of dollars in subsidies for consumers and manufacturers.
With pump prices at just over $2 per gallon, efficient gasoline-powered cars selling for less than $20,000, and dirt-cheap financing available for most buyers, electric vehicles have become a hard sell due to their limited range and high costs, even after tax credits.
Although Tesla Motors has developed a sedan with a range of 250 miles, these $100,000-plus vehicles are basically toys for rich people.
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It remains to be seen if Elon Musk can deliver his promised “Tesla for Everyman” at $35,000 (after incentives).
Nonetheless, some prognosticators foresee the rapid demise of gasoline and diesel-fueled motor vehicles.
Tony Seba, a widely published entrepreneur and lecturer at Stanford University, predicts that by 2030 all new personal vehicles will be battery-powered and self-driving, while the car market itself shrinks by 80 percent.
He also predicts that most of our highways and parking spaces won’t be needed 14 years hence.
The “disruptive” energy transformation that Seba talks about may occur over the next century, but not over the next 14 years.
Even if his predictions came to pass, we’d still need huge amounts of oil and gas to power heavy-duty trucks and industrial machinery.
And where would the electrons come from to recharge all the personal electric vehicles? Seba believes we’ll have plenty of installed wind and solar capacity by 2030 to handle the task.
True, wind and solar investments have jumped in recent years, thanks mainly to state mandates and federal tax credits. But wind and solar today account for a mere 5.3 percent of America’s power generating capacity.
Last year, America’s power plants generated 4 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity, with coal and natural gas fueling two-thirds of this output.
Recently, Seba has proclaimed that gasoline and diesel cars won’t be on sale anywhere in the world a decade from now.
Not only is this prediction ridiculous on its face, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its just-released 2016 International Energy Outlook, argues that oil will continue to be the world’s primary fuel for the transport sector, as well as the key fuel for industrial uses in emerging countries, at least through 2040.
Indeed, fossil fuels will still account for 78 percent of global energy use in 25 years, even as renewables increase their share.
Seba and others view electric vehicles as the key to reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. At present, motor vehicles in the U.S. account for about 26 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, second to power plants.
But over the past decade, total emissions from cars and trucks have actually fallen despite a huge increase in the number of vehicles in service, a combination of cleaner-burning engines and better fuel economy.
So hold on to your oil and gas investments.
Fossil fuels will be around for the foreseeable future, because no other power sources, except perhaps nuclear, offer the same degrees of energy density and reliability.
Even with new carbon regulations, the demand for oil and natural gas will continue to grow. The challenge is to use these fuels responsibly and efficiently.
Bernard L. Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.