Why Electric Vehicles Don’t Spell the End for the Internal Combustion Engine

The Afternoon Campaign Update
(Because The Campaign Never Ends)

Answering reader mail. – A reader in Houston emailed me this morning ([email protected]) with an energy-related question that is very timely. Here follows the email and answer I provided:



I really enjoyed listening to your appearance on the BYU podcast and reading this article:

7 Key Things To Know About Oil and Gas

Your last point contained this tidbit that caught my attention:

“The reality is that, despite the growing intervention into the auto market by electric vehicles, the demand for gasoline and crude oil in the U.S. continues to rise, and is projected to keep doing so into the future.”

  • How will the shift to electric vehicles impact the demand on Oil and Gas?
  • Roughly what % of global consumption is for vehicle fuel?
  • Do you think we’ll fully go to electric vehicles and how will this shift effect Houston’s economy in the near and far term?

I’ve got a chunk of my net worth wrapped up in my house [near Houston], and am wondering what a drop in global demand would do to all these O&G companies and the local housing market.

Your daily updates are my favorite read of every morning.  Press on!

Answer: [Edited and expanded slightly for clarity.]

The potential for EVs is wildly over-hyped in the media. The shift to EVs is far outpaced by the ongoing increases in demand for crude oil, not just in the U.S. but even moreso globally. That is not going to change anytime soon.

Why? Because that electricity to recharge them has to come from somewhere, and today mainly comes from power generated by coal and natural gas in the U.S. That’s another stark reality that is not going to change anytime in my lifetime, which I figure is another 25 years or so. [Every reliable projection – even those by the U.N. – project that fossil fuels will still account for the vast majority of global power generation in 2050.]

Here’s reality: The world has a choice where fossil fuels are concerned. First, we could burn more and more coal in power generation because it is not replaceable by intermittent power sources like wind and solar. Germany and Spain have clearly demonstrated this over the past decade, as they almost bankrupted their economies trying to do just that.

The alternative is to burn more and more gasoline in automobiles.  You cannot have a geometric leap in EVs without burning far more coal than we do today, and the alternative to burn more gasoline is a much cleaner environmental solution. It is also a far more affordable solution for consumers.

Thus, it is a virtual certainty that we will continue to burn more gasoline in internal combustion engines for the next half century, and probably beyond.

Houston’s going to be fine.


Now, to expand on that a bit, here are a couple of other reasons why the world will continue to produce and consume increasing amounts of oil in the coming decades:

First, you have the fact that thousands of other products that ordinary people rely on every day are produced either in whole or in part from petroleum. From plastics to chemicals to polyester to fertilizers to makeup to toothpaste, even to the computer on which I am typing this, people all over the world are heavily reliant on a vast variety of products that use petroleum as a feedstock.

Second, look at this incredible graphic:

What amazing progress in just ten years! Here’s the simple truth: None of that progress would have been possible without oil and natural gas. The developing nations of the world need access to plentiful, scalable and affordable sources of energy in order to join modern society and elevate their people out of squalor. This can only be achieved through the use of fossil fuels.  Period.

So, bottom line, if you are worried about the oil and gas industry collapsing anytime soon, you need to find something else to worry about.

That is all.



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Cameron Howe

DB, I think you and the other commenters are spot on. The advantages of gasoline (and diesel) in terms of energy storage, transportibility, and infrastructure alone mean they are going to remain the dominant fuel source in the transportation industry. Only some radical shift in battery technology might shift this slightly, and AFAIK there isn’t even one that exists theoretically on paper (chemical and or fuel cell). Even the vaunted Tesla battery is simply 7000+ 18650 batteries (same as in your laptop) rearranged in a huge battery pack, which is what causes the model S to weigh in just under 5000 lbs, which causes a whole lotta other problems and all you get is a longer tail pipe. (Exceptions to the long tail pipe rule, e.g. you have your own solar farm, don’t bother responding, point stipulated, but you are the vast minority).

On a wider energy industry note, the big shift will come when nuclear fusion comes online. I know, i know, it’s been “20 years away” for the last 50 years, but, we will get there eventually. Once that happens, the entire discussion will shift, but even then, I think there will still be uses for fossil fuels.

Jimmy MacAfee

I’ve seen videos of electric motorcycles – fast ones. I’ve had a few experiences with deer in the past, mostly close misses. I suspect that the almost-silent EV motorcycles would create far more danger for cyclist and deer. Don’t know of any stats, because there aren’t many electric bikes out there to compare the two. But I’ll keep my moderately loud cruiser (not blasting loud, but audible enough.) I used to go by the blog acronym VTX – (the name of my bike, also Veritas Tacitus Xenos on blogs a long time ago.)

Jake J

I own an EV. I also own a Ram 3500 diesel truck, and a gasoline Toyota RAV-4. I agree with your basic point that EVs won’t be replacing ICEVs anytime soon, if ever.

In the U.S., coal and natural gas supply about 63% of generation fuel. Nukes are another 19%. Other fossil fuels (oil, “other gases”) are 1%. Renewables are now 17%. This represents significant growth for renewables over time. Solar (1.7%) and wind (6.4%) are now 8%, rounded. I am as skeptical as they get on the potential for renewables, because they can’t provide baseload without storage, all of which is hideously expensive.

The biggest trend in the numbers is the replacement of coal with natural gas. Given the magnitudes involved, it’s amazing how quickly this has happened. The trend accelerated in a major way in 2018. We are now at 35% natural gas and 27% coal (adding to 63% because of rounding). I think this is astounding, and I will be very interested to see how this plays out over the next 5 to 10 years.

Another big plus for gasoline relative to EVs, which you did not mention, is the development of more efficient gasoline engines. Keep an eye on Mazda’s “SkyActiv” engines. They are more efficient than other gas engines, and are set to make a major leap in the next few years. The search term is “SkyActiv X.” Those engines will be about 40% efficient, and Mazda has said that the next generation (no timetable announced yet) will exceed 50%.

This is a major development, because the thermal efficiency of EVs, when the efficiency factors of generation is combined with the efficiency of EV powertrains, is about 45%. This will rise as natural gas replaces coal, but it appears that gasoline will keep pace. At the factual level, EVs aren’t going to be more thermally efficient than ICEVs for very long.


Just who is stupid enough to think that anything can replace the internal combustion engine in long haul trucks, trains, airplanes, large construction equipment and even passenger cars? Sure, we can develope better electric cars that can be used for short distance driving, especially in the city, but my Chrysler 300 will carry 5 people some 400 miles on a tank of gas in air-conditioned comfort, and a fill-up with gasoline only takes about 5 minutes and I am on my way again for another 400 miles. How far can an electric vehicle do that and you can’t recharge it in 5 minutes. Just how are you going to fit an 18-wheeler, that carries tons of products over great distances with any kind of power source other than an internal combustion engine that uses fossil fuels? Or a train, or an airplane that carries 200+ passengers? Until some new radical currently unknown source of abundant, cheap, renewable power is discovered, and there isn’t anything like that on the near horizon, we will be using fossil fuels for a long time to come.


Nice explanation David. My thoughts is that IC engines vs. EV are a generational thing. It will take two more generations before people will be willing to give up their cherished gas powered cars – which ties into your 2050 prediction. But the change will happen, and with it the end of motor racing.


I agree that it may take a generation or two to move to primarily EVs. Respectfully, I think that one thing that could accelerate that though could actually be…. motor racing. I agree that it would change racing (and I love motor racing), but I think that a competitive high end EV racing series would, with the right constraints, actually accelerate the development of battery and charging technology and efficiency. Think about what racing has done for the development of the modern ICV. There’s no reason I can think of that the same could not work for EVs. Cheers.

Kevin Cowlishaw

Can’t imagine any EV racing car making that noise that only a V8 V10 or V12 makes when the revs wind up. Perhaps they could fit a sound effects ghetto blaster under the hood but I doubt it.

Sink Jaxon

OK, all you suburbanites out there go on use an electric car to commute into the city to your office jobs, that makes sense. But for those of us who have to haul around tools and materials, tow trailers, run backhoes and other various heavy equipment, then for fun run our ATV’s and motorhomes and boats…leave us the gas and diesel !

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