New report: Major disruption in the transportation sector could devastate the oil industry in the next decade

Technology, new business model and economics drive change

By 2030, 95% of U.S. car miles traveled will be in self-driving, electric, shared vehicles

LONDON and SAN FRANCISCO — A historic revolution in transportation will end over 100 years of individual ownership of gas-powered vehicles and devastate the oil industry in the process. That’s according to a groundbreaking new research report, Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the ICE Vehicle and Oil Industries.

Assuming existing technologies and well-known cost curves, the report, produced by RethinkX, an independent research group, provides a detailed analysis of data, market, consumer and regulatory dynamics. It finds that within 10 years of the regulatory approval of driverless vehicles, 95 percent of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand Autonomous Electric Vehicles (A-EVs) owned by companies providing Transport as a Service (TaaS).

For the oil industry, the widespread shift away from individual gas-powered vehicles and toward electric, autonomous, shared vehicles will be catastrophic. Global oil demand will peak at 100 million barrels per day by 2020, dropping to 70 million barrels per day by 2030, according to the report. This will impact different companies and countries disproportionately — and in many cases, dramatically — depending on their exposure to high-cost oil.

“We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history,” said co-author Tony Seba, RethinkX co-founder, author of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” and instructor at Stanford Continuing Studies. “But there is nothing magical about it. This is driven by the economics,“ Seba said.  

Rethinking Transportation projects that transportation disruption will send oil prices plummeting to approximately $25 USD per barrel as soon as 2021. Persian Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose production mainly derives from low-cost conventional oil fields, will not see production volumes decrease by much. But countries with a larger share of shale oil, oil sands and offshore oil will see higher proportions of their oil rendered commercially unviable. High-cost oil fields will be completely stranded.

Rethinking Transportation projects the following impacts for specific countries:

  • In the U.S., an estimated 65 percent of shale oil and tight oil — which under a “business as usual” scenario could make up over 70 percent of the U.S. supply in 2030 — would no longer be commercially viable.
  • Approximately 70 percent of the potential 2030 production of Bakken shale oil would be stranded under a 70 million barrel-per-day demand assumption.
  • Infrastructure such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines would be stranded, as well.
  • Other areas facing large-scale volume disruption include offshore sites in the United Kingdom, Norway and Nigeria; Venezuelan heavy-crude fields; and the Canadian tar sands.

Rethinking Transportation details how the approval of autonomous vehicles will unleash a market grab by existing and new ride-share companies, who will abandon internal combustion engines (ICE) for A-EVs for purely cost reasons. As a result:

  • Using TaaS will be four to 10 times cheaper per mile than buying a new car, and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing paid-off vehicle, by 2021.
  • The cost of TaaS will be driven down by several factors, including utilization rates that are 10 times higher; electric vehicle lifetimes exceeding 500,000 miles; and far lower maintenance, energy, finance and insurance costs.
  • The average American household will save at least $5,600 per year by giving up its gas-powered car and traveling by autonomous, electric TaaS vehicles.
  • These cost savings will drive both potential new car buyers and existing owners to abandon vehicle ownership and move to TaaS.
  • There is a clear path to free transportation under TaaS, which would accelerate the disruption and bring even more savings to American families and a bigger boost to the economy.

“While these projections may seem radical because they differ from mainstream and incumbent industry projections, they are really quite conservative because they are based on assumptions that in some cases have already been bested by new technologies and plummeting prices,” said Bryan Hansel, CEO of Chanje Energy (formerly Nohm Technologies).

Many transportation experts project a gradual move toward electric vehicles, the advent of driverless cars and trucks and the growth of shared transportation. But the authors of Rethinking Transportation put these three trends together and foresee a much faster and more profound change.

“Mainstream analyses fail to account for the impacts of technology convergence, and a new business model born in response,” said James Arbib, technology investor, philanthropist and co-author of the report. “This results in a far greater cost differential between individual ownership and Transportation as a Service, leading to far faster and more extensive adoption as people choose cheaper, better transportation provided as a service.”

Unlike most mainstream analyses, which produce linear and incremental forecasts, Rethinking Transportation incorporates systems dynamics, including technology convergence, demand-side scale economies, increasing returns, network effects, feedback loops and market forces that better reflect the reality of fast-paced technology adoption S-curves. 

“Systems dynamics will be unleashed as adoption begins, creating a virtuous cycle of increased investments in technology and market development leading to decreasing cost and increasing quality and convenience of Transportation as a Service, which will in turn drive further adoption along an exponential S-curve,” said Seba. “Conversely, individual ownership, especially of internal combustion engine vehicles, will enter a vicious cycle of increasing costs, and diminishing quality of service and convenience.”

Seba has successfully predicted major energy shifts before. He predicted in his 2009 book, “Solar Trillions,” that the cost of unsubsidized solar energy would be as low as 3.5 cents per kilowatt/hour by 2020, thus beating oil, coal and nuclear; this prediction has recently come true. Demand for both coal and nuclear have peaked and declined, and market values of listed companies in both industries have collapsed as a result. Seba also predicted in his 2014 book, “Clean Disruption," that the auto industry would commercialize unsubsidized electric vehicles with ranges of 200+ miles for $35,000 to $40.000 by 2018. The GM Bolt and Tesla Model 3 are the first two of the wave of EVs in the price range predicted by Seba.  

The impacts of the transition to TaaS are far-reaching:

  • Savings on transportation costs will result in a boost in annual disposable income for U.S. households totaling$1 trillion by 2030.
  • Consumer spending – America’s largest economic driver – will drive business and job growth.
  • Productivity gains will boost GDP by an additional $1 trillion.
  • As fewer cars travel more miles, the number of passenger vehicles on American roads will drop from 247 million to 44 million, opening up vast tracts of land for other uses.
  • Demand for new vehicles will plummet; 70 percent fewer passenger cars and trucks will be manufactured each year. This will result in total disruption of the car value chain, with car dealers, maintenance and insurance companies suffering almost complete destruction. Car manufacturers will have options to adapt, either as low-margin, high-volume assemblers of A-EVs, or by transitioning to become TaaS providers.

“As with any market disruption, there will be winners as well as losers. Job losses in the driving, manufacturing and oil and gas sectors will be a key concern,” Arbib said. “But huge opportunities will open up as well – from broad economic growth stimulated by consumer saving and spending, to more focused growth in vehicle operating systems, computing platforms and Transportation as a Service, or TaaS, fleet providers. Travelers will have more time available since they will not be driving, and that opens a wide array of business opportunities, such as cafes on wheels, mobile entertainment or workspaces. The ability to monetize TaaS platforms as companies have monetized the internet platform opens the road to free transportation in some areas.”

Policymakers will face several critical junctures where their decisions will either help accelerate or slow down the transition to TaaS. The first and the most crucial decision is when to remove barriers to autonomous vehicles (AVs). One indicator that American policymakers are inclined to move forward quickly is the rare bipartisan legislation to approve AVs, introduced by Senators John Thune (R-ND) and Gary Peters (D-MI). At the state level, California has approved 30 companies to test their self-driving cars on public roads and has proposed rules to allow fully (level 5) autonomous vehicles as soon as 2017.

The report aims to inform investors, business and civic leaders, and policymakers about the anticipated disruption to enable better choices.

Sarah Golden