The market share of electric vehicles will hit 50 per cent in China this year, and global new car sales could plunge by 75 per cent by 2030: These are just two of the many fascinating new forecasts by technology researcher and futurist Tony Seba in an interview in the latest episode of The Driven podcast.
Seba, cofounder of RethinkX, is known globally for his research on technology “S-curves” which illustrate how throughout history, technology uptake seems slow to begin with, but then accelerates dramatically.
Seba’s work at RethinkX and in the public arena focuses on technology disruption and technology convergence that leads to “phase changes” in the world’s energy, transport, information and food systems.
In 2014, Seba predicted that battery costs would drop from around $500 per kWh to just $100 per kWh by 2023. A prediction that has been proven to be scarily accurate. He was also one of the first to predict the sheer scale of the solar revolution.
What’s happening in China and how does it compare to other regions?
Seba recently returned from the Shanghai auto show and The Driven asked him how the Shanghai show compared to the LA auto show in December last year.
On the LA auto show Seba said: “Frankly it was pathetic. There were a handful of electric vehicles. Most of them are expensive. Many of them were not even for sale. I just came back from Shanghai. And what I saw was amazing. I mean, just the sheer quality for the cost of the EVs that Chinese automakers are producing is just stunning.
“And also there are so many automakers in China that are achieving scale. This year EVs may well achieve 40 to 50%.
“What you’re gonna see over the next few years is most foreign automakers being pushed out, not Tesla, but most other automakers pushed out of the Chinese markets just because of economic reasons, just because they don’t have products at the right cost and capability for the Chinese markets.”
Technology convergences enabling the EV revolution
The Driven asked Seba what are the main technology convergences that are driving the electric vehicle transformation.
“If you look at three technologies or sets of technologies. One is autonomous, two is electric and three is on-demand transportation,” he said.
“So we’re seeing the on-demand transportation now, Uber, Didi, Lyft and so on, it’s been happening for more Then 10 years.
“In parallel to that, we’re seeing the electric vehicle disruption.”
Seba says that most analysts and policymakers see the EV disruption as a “clean caterpillar” rather than a new butterfly. It’s seen as a “one is to one” transition where every ICE vehicle is simply replaced with an EV.
Seba says this isn’t how disruption happens.
“The day that we get level four, autonomous technology ready and approved by regulators, when that converges with on-demand, and electric transportation we will get what we call transportation as a service (TAAS).”
“Some call it Robo taxi. Essentially, when that happens the cost per mile of transportation is going to drop by anywhere from 10 to 20 times.”
“So even if gasoline automakers gave away their cars, that’s still gonna be a lot more expensive than the cost of transport as a service.”
“So for most people who can barely pay their bills, it won’t make any sense to own a car,” said Seba.
“Do I spend $50,000 over the next five years to own a car? Or do I pay $100 a month for a subscription to transportation as a service?”
Global annual auto sales to drop by 75% by 2030
Seba says that electric vehicles will do around 500,000 miles (800,000 km) compared to ICE vehicles that get around 140,000 miles (225,000 km) over their lifetime.
This means that EVs will last 4-5 times longer meaning the global car market will likely drop by 75% because people won’t need to replace cars as often.
“People are going to be buying vehicles a lot less often. So with that, essentially cut the global vehicle market by a factor of four or five.”
“And soon enough you’re gonna see million mile EVs. And what that means is that over 10 years you’re going to need just one EV for 10 petrol cars,”
“Either way, it’s pretty much over for internal combustion engine.”
Moving transport energy from centralised oil to decentralised renewables
The world’s entire transport energy system is currently highly centralised with just a handful of multinational oil companies controlling the global transport energy supply chain. The convergence of renewable energy with electric vehicles will have a decentralising effect.
The Driven asked Seba what effect he thinks this “phase shift” will have on global geopolitics.
“Well, everything is going to change,”
“It’s gonna happen the exact opposite that we saw in the early 20th century.
“In the 20th century we saw increased centralisation. So the car essentially meant that we needed petroleum which is only available in a few places around the world. The car itself needed scale economies, oil, coal, gas, industrial everything. They were all based on scarce resources that are not available everywhere,”
“So everything in the 20th century changed. War changed, geopolitics changed because of the car.
“What we’re going to see starting around the 2030s is the total opposite.
“The five foundational sectors of the economy [energy, transport, food, information and materials] are going to be based on super abundant, really low cost, localised distributed production,” said Seba.
“In energy production we’re going to see essentially solar wind and batteries. Again solar wind and battery disruption is not going to be a clean version of today’s system. It’s not a cleaner caterpillar, it’s going to be dramatically different. It’s going to be super local and it’s going to have massively different properties.”
“All of these technologies are based on the idea that we’re going to have global design and development and local production. Each one of these sectors essentially is trending to a near zero cost distributed localised negative carbon production system.”
“All of them are going through phase change disruptions and transformation, at the same time, in the 2020s. And this is why we are seeing the in 2020s such dysfunction. Such instability around the world.”
You can listen to the full interview with Tony Seba on the latest episode of The Driven Podcast
Daniel Bleakley is a clean technology researcher and advocate with a background in engineering and business. He has a strong interest in electric vehicles, renewable energy, manufacturing and public policy.