Demand for gasoline in Asia may peak much earlier than expected as millions of people in China and India buy electric vehicles over the next decade, threatening wrenching change for the oil industry, oil and auto company executives warned. They said refiners should prepare for a future in which gasoline, their biggest source of revenue, will be much less of a cash cow.
Change is being prompted by policy moves in India and China, where governments are trying to rein in rampant pollution, cut oil imports, and compete for a slice of the fast-growing green car market. In its "road map", released in April, China said it wants alternative fuel vehicles to account for at least one-fifth of the 35 million annual vehicle sales projected by 2025. India is considering even more radical action, with an influential government think-tank drafting plans in support of electrifying all vehicles in the country by 2032, according to government and industry sources interviewed by Reuters late last week.
"We will see a clear shift to electric cars. It's driven by legislation so electric cars are coming, it's not a niche anymore," Wilco Stark, vice president for strategy and product planning at German car maker Daimler, told Reuters. Electric cars currently make up less than 2 percent of the global car fleet, and any faster-than-expected growth in that percentage will materially impact oil demand and the refining business.
The changes are so big that the influential International Energy Agency (IEA) plans to revisit its analysis of electric vehicle trends and oil demand. In its current policies scenario, last updated in November 2016, the IEA still expects oil demand from vehicle use to rise until 2040. For refiners, the growth of vehicles that run on electricity and other alternative fuels is a wake-up call. They can tweak the products they make from crude oil to an extent, but still mostly rely on gasoline consumption for revenue.
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