Tesla Inc.’s unveiling on 17 November of a new electric truck showed Elon Musk can match Steve Jobs’s ability to wow the tech crowd with a glimpse of the future. If he can equal the manufacturing prowess of Apple Inc.’s current Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, he might just clobber the oil industry too.
That’s a big if, given Tesla’s current inability to meet manufacturing targets on the mass-market Model 3 electric car. But if the company really can deliver a battery-powered big rig with a 500-mile range and lower lifetime costs than diesel vehicles, then a big chunk of future oil demand growth is in peril.
Road freight accounts for about a fifth of world oil consumption, mostly diesel, according to the annual World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency this week. Trucks are responsible for about 60 percent of the increase in global diesel demand since 2000, the report shows.
Freight will be even more important to the oil market in the future. The IEA expects gasoline demand to start falling before 2040 — in part because of the big increase in electric cars — but it says road freight and aviation will have no choice but to keep using oil. Buses and trucks will drive a 2 million barrel-a-day increase in diesel demand from 2016 to 2040, and overall oil demand will keep growing, it said.
Musk said his new truck “can transform into a robot, fight aliens and make one hell of a latte.” Showmanship aside, if the truck is a success, the IEA’s forecasts may prove wildly optimistic.