• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • Here's a great video that makes a good argument for the fast approaching end of big auto and big oil. It focuses on the changeover to electric vehicles and how that will upend the industry. What do you think?

    • Interesting analysis, but I think it leaves out something crucial to the equation, which is the possible impact of the move from personal ownership of cars to transportation as a service. I think it's likely that--especially in urban areas--it is going to become cheaper and more convenient to use autonomous on-demand vehicles than to own one, and that this could happen within ten years. One can easily imagine Uber buying Ford (or vice versa), or GM going into the ride sharing business with its own fleet of cars. This won't necessarily kill big auto, though fewer cars will be needed as they will be used more efficiently. But the companies might become more profitable, which is all that matters to them. Big oil, on the other hand, will certainly shrink, though I'm pretty sure that the major producers will find ways to limit supply and keep the prices up. ICE based vehicles will not only find no market for new sales, but it will become increasingly difficult to use old ones as more and more governments prohibit their use for environmental reasons. Still there are non-transportation uses for oil that will take longer to be supplanted, so I wouldn't expect big oil to disappear altogether in the near future.

    • I write about motorcycles. Two things stand in the way of widespread adoption of electric bikes, based on the reader feedback that I've seen.

      1/ Range. Battery technology lags. It may have improved, but it's been an issue for decades. Until there's a massive leap forward in battery efficiency/capacity, electric bikes will have limited appeal.

      2/ Price. Typically, there's a premium on electric bikes.

      The chief technology officer for Zero, the USA's leading manufacturer of electric motorcycles, disagrees with our readers. He thinks the hurdle is familiarity. Not enough people are aware of electric bikes. He believes "fit for purpose" is what sells bikes and that for most people, a 100-200 mile range on a charge is ample.

      He may be right about exposure. It seems to me that the number of electric bikes exploded this year and will continue to grown. Harley-Davidson is making a major commitment to them with their LiveWire project.

      But Zero's sales are tiny -- fewer than 5,000 units a year.

      And he overlooks aspiration. Even if riders actually ride inside of 200 miles in a day, many of them still want a machine that's capable of going further.

      (As an aside, and to buttress the point about aspirations and expectations, electric bike sales are soaring in Europe. But not for traditional motorcycle-styled machines. The boom is in the scooter/moped market. Those riders are fine with limited range. They want to go crosstown, not hit the wide open roads.)

      In my opinion, the biggest hurdle is battery technology. If that is ever solved, I assume that prices will drop over time, as seems to happen when a technology matures.

      The last time I looked at the solar energy market, the same kinds of issues prevailed. Solar panels still aren't efficient enough and still cost too much. They don't pay for themselves in a reasonable amount of time. Without subsidies (and absent mandatory installation, as in California) the market for them will continue to be limited.

      That's my take on the current status.

    • I'll add one more thought.

      If they ever devise a way to fully charge an empty battery in five minutes or less, then range becomes less of an issue for motorcycles.

    • Yeah. Remember all those search engines in the early days of the internet? Eventually, Google emerged as the monopoly of that maker. I wonder if the same trend will emerge in auto. The first company to transportation as a service market with self-driving cars will get so far ahead due to the competitive edge of not having to employ drivers that it will be so hard for other companies to play catch up. Uber is valued at 120B. By market cap, they're bigger than Ford, GM, and Honda, and very quickly catching up with Toyota. I can easily imagine a world in which Uber exclusively owns and operates most of the vehicles of the world.

    • Great find, cvdavis. Whenever I think of predicting the demise of oil companies, I think of that time when I and my fellow earth scientists were so dead wrong about something we were convinced of.

      In the early 80s when I was a young geophysicist, it was clear as can be that we would run out of oil by the year 2000. We were discovering new fields with decreased frequency. All the easy oil had been found. The rise of India and China. Graphs, charts, math. You couldn't miss the obvious trend and the oil companies knew it so Exxon expanded into office products and started selling typewriters and copy machines. All oil companies expanded into petrochemicals like plastics, and they invested enormous amounts into solar, geothermal and wind in the 70s and 80s, none of which paid off because when Opec opened the taps, alternative energy companies collapsed.

      Then came the discoveries like offshore Brazil that we didn't see coming. Then more and more. Horizontal drilling. Fracking. What? The data had been so clear...

      And now we're talking glut in 2023.

      One thing I don't agree with is big vehicle sales is a result of no electric competition. For 40 years, what has driven big versus small vehicle sales is the price of gas. If there's a glut and cheap gas, we get the vans, trucks, motor homes, and SUVs.

    • You know, I've tried to get myself excited about electric motorcycles and I haven't been able to. They're not pretty. They don't sound cool. They have no retro hipster Steve McQueen look.

      The thing about cars is they've all come to look alike because with cars it's about safety, quiet ride, fuel economy — and those things make most cars look the same, a bunch of aero plastic bubbles. At first glance, does this look like a Toyota?

      Motorcycles are not like that. We love the look & sound. Why else would you buy a Triumph or Harley? The engines are beautiful. Electric boats and cars, I get for sure. I'm even obsessed with electric-boosted mountain bikes, I totally get why I lust after them.

      But which electric motorcycles look and sound like this?

    • Yes that's what I had read too. That said, I'm sure there are car companies that will fail to make a successful transition to the new system. Big changes will be happening in the next ten years.

    • As someone who does a lot of dirt biking and adventure riding on serious off road trails, I - like you - need a bike that has a longer range than the current crop of electric bikes such as the Zero. That said, I think we have a bias because of our own needs. Certainly most people who ride motorcycles are using them in the city and don't require a long range. The longer the range, the greater the number of potential buyers. Battery energy density will have to improve for motorcycles but for cars they're already good enough for a large chunk of the population. If not then there's hybrids or good old ICE vehicles.

    • Electric motorcycle technology certainly is not where electric car technology is but that's not really the point of the video. I agree with your take however.

    • There is certainly a big reward for those who arrive first but there's plenty of room for other companies to also build large fleets of cars. It's almost inconceivable that only one company will dominate the whole world. For one thing some countries simply wouldn't allow it. Can you imagine China allowing the market to be 95% foreign cars? Not a chance.

    • Yes I agree that large vehicle sales go up or down depending on gas prices but there's more to it now. I myself have thought for a couple years now that I'll just keep my current vehicle going until self driving electrics come out.

      Of course nothing involving technology is inevitable and no one can predict the future with absolute certainty. That being said I think there's ample evidence of car manufactures scuttling their tech research into ICE and redirecting it into electric vehicles. That alone says a lot. The GM factory shut downs and layoffs are part of their long term plans to refocus on electric vehicles. This also a harbinger of what's to come. If something better comes along I'd be all for that too. Progress is what I see happening.

    • I'll address aesthetics, maintenance and sound in my comments that follow.

      Aesthetics certainly plays a roll with motorcycle sales but some people like me are obsessed with the performance side of things. If someone on an electric motorcycle is kicking my butt because their bike is better - then I want one. We haven't gotten to that stage just yet but it'll come. There are a lot of reasons why electric motorcycles should surpass ICE motorcycles in performance due to extra space available on the motorcycle. You have more freedom for changing the shock angle for example. Yes the batteries need to get better but it will happen.

      We have so many positive experiences with motorcycles that have ICE engines that we are somewhat attached to them. I can tell you after doing all my own mechanical work that I'd much rather ride a motorcycle than work on it. Electric motorcycles have hardly any maintenance compared to ICE ones and that alone in my mind will be worth the price of admission when the range and performance are equal.

      The sound of a dirt bike is certainly attractive but I have to say that I purchased a certain electric assist mountain bike because it had a quieter motor than the others. There's something to be said for a quieter experience. I also want a silent bike so I can have access to more riding areas. Access issues are huge among dirt bikers and the electric bikes are sure to be a game changer in this regard. Imagine having a motocross track right in your yard in or near the city? We actually have a motocross track in our city but that's an extremely rare thing. It won't be rare in the future and that's a very exciting prospect for me and a lot of fellow dirt bikers.

    • Yes, and I don't imagine Japan, Korea or Germany will just quietly fade away either. I think we have to distinguish between car manufacturers and fleet owner/operators. It's possible that some companies will be both, though that might raise anti-trust alarms in some countries (but not in others). While we don't know what the end result will be, I agree that there's not much of a chance of a first mover locking out the competition. There are already too many well-financed players for that to occur.