Elon Musk is having a party. Another one. Tomorrow, a little more than a year after taking orders worth nearly $20 billion for the new Tesla Model 3 electric vehicle in just over a weekend, the keys to the first 30 vehicles off the production line will be handed to their enraptured new owners.
(Tomorrow being Saturday afternoon, Australian eastern states time, or Friday night in California. You can watch the live stream on the company’s home page at 1.45pm AEST).
It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most anticipated car delivery of the 21st century, and possibly of the last 50 years. Can anyone think of another?
Last April, Tesla broke all records for car orders after unveiling Musk’s plan for a $US35,000 EV that had not even been fully designed yet, and was more than a year away from delivery.
Tesla stopped releasing order numbers after the the total passed 373,000 not long after the initial unveiling. Tesla fan clubs put the numbers at around 550,000.
But that’s no longer the stat that counts the most. That unveiling was hailed as a “game changer” for the $8 trillion oil and transport industry, and possibly the $4 trillion energy industry too.
The assumption then was that this was going to kill the petrol car, and change the economics of battery storage. The only remaining question is not if, but when.
As we wrote way back in April last year, this forecast is not predicated on the success or otherwise of Tesla, which recently outranked both Ford and GM in market value, despite selling just a fraction of the number of vehicles.
Tesla has led the charge towards EVs, but it is no longer alone. All the major vehicle manufacturers are pouring billions into their own EV brands: Volvo will stop making petrol or diesel-only cars by 2019, Daimler is bringing forward its 10-model EV range to 2022, GM and Toyota are trying to outflank Tesla with solid-state batteries that could be lighter, cheaper and longer lasting.
Governments are also getting on board, noting not just the inevitability of technology change and economics, but trying to accelerate it out of concerns for the climate and public health.
The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025. The governments Norway and the Netherlands say they will ban petrol car sales by 2025, India by 2030, and France and England by 2040. Germany is considering a ban by 2030, China wants 12 per cent of all vehicle sales to be zero emission by 2020. Other countries will surely follow.
The UK’s announcement seem to confirm that the game will be over for the petrol car within two decades. Some, though some think that this is shutting the gate well after the horse has bolted.
Indeed, Seba thinks it will be all over for the petrol car by 2025, at least in terms of new sales. He even thinks individual car ownership will be fading out by 2030, a prediction that attracted a volley of hate and paranoia from the right wing and Trump’s America. (It’s OK, you can keep your pick-up).
Seba cites numerous factors: the cross-over point on economics, the low running costs, the low maintenance costs, the push to autonomous vehicles and “shared mobility”.
Even mainstream analysts such as Morgan Stanley concede it could be all over by 2045. In their bull case scenario, which includes government intervention of the type we have seen in UK and France, EVs account for 90 per cent of the global fleet by 2045.
It says that the Model 3 shows there is demand for the right car at the right price. “As the major (car makers) launch their current BEV model plans, and the BEV range expands to 500km (300 miles) and beyond, we believe the consumer proposition will change swiftly and, as with Tesla, consumer interest will improve quickly.”
This, of course, has huge implications for the oil majors, still buoyed by an investment bubble that puts unreasonable valuations on oil reserves that may never be exploited. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote this week, “Opec and the oil barons face a slow death by electrification.”
In Australia it is not clear how quickly this can, or will, happen. The BZE think tank this week suggested we could go all EV as early as 2025, just like Seba’s predictions, and this analysis we published today – Electric Vehicle in Australia: Not if, but how and when goes a long way to explain what’s at stake.
Given that Australia is almost totally reliant on imported transport fuels, there is a good reason to hit the accelerator on EVs.
But Australia has a federal government that is developing a near Amish-style fear of new technology, caught between dog-whistling to the crazies on its right flank, and occasionally hosing down their most ridiculous assumptions.
Look at the reaction earlier this month when news emerged that Australia would – nearly a generation after every other developed and most semi developed economies in the world – finally take action of emissions and efficiency standards in vehicles.
Australia has become a dumping ground for dirty vehicles that major manufacturers can’t sell in other countries. Australia is losing its car manufacturing, but not its car pollution. The reaction to the proposed and modest efficiency standards? Label it a carbon tax on cars.
The Coalition, led by a man once captivated by these new technologies, quickly retreated into their caves, only for Treasurer Scott Morrison to serenade the party troglodytes by trying to compare the Tesla battery to be built in South Australia – the world’s biggest lithium-ion installation (at least for now) – with the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour and the Big Prawn in Ballina.
“By all means have the world’s biggest battery, have the world’s biggest banana, have the world’s biggest prawn like we have on the roadside around the country, but that is not solving the problem,” Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.
But then, to prove that is he is not completely daft, he admitted at the same press conference that people should “get real” about the costs of new coal plants, particularly the much vaunted (in conservative circles) High Emissions Low Efficiency (HELE) coal plants. Did I get the acronym right?
“These new HELE plants would produce energy at an estimated two and a half times the cost of our existing coal-fired power stations. They would also take up to around seven years to set up,” Morrison said.
Perhaps, the right wing can only deal with one truth at a time. It will take them a while longer to understand that the quickest way to reduce costs in the electricity sector is to encourage more renewables, not less.
That same process will also be applied to the electric vehicle, although the likes of Bloomberg predict the cross-over on costs to happen within a few years. Right now, however, in Australia, the choice of an EV or a plug in hybrid is very limited.
So, what to expect of the Tesla 3 handover event?
Pundits are on the lookout for the level of autonomy, the range (there may be two battery size options), the final pricing with and without add-ons, and news on the ramp up of production -currently predicted to be 20,000 a month by December.
And there could be news of more gigafactories, and the latest on the charging networks, and when the first vehicles may arrive in Australia and other countries.
And, of course, the half a million people who have put down a refundable deposit of at least $US1,000 may finally get to see what’s inside the Model 3. Do the seats roll flat? How big is the trunk? And can I get a surfboard on the roof? Or do I want my money back?