The End of the Gasoline Fueled Automobiles In Your Lifetime

tesla ferrari
Source: Bloomberg


Tesla has rocked the world of high-performance automobiles with the introduction of its new “Ludicrous mode.” The internal-combustion engine business may never be the same.

Regular readers of mine usually know at least two things about me: First, I believe that all predictions are silly, more about marketing than actually trying to figure out what comes next. Second, I am a fan of sleek, go-fast machines, preferably beautiful ones from Italy,Germany or the U.K.

Thus, I am going to break with both of these traditions to make a forecast about the future of the automotive industry. Gasoline-powered cars are toast. They are over, finito, kaput, the walking dead who have not yet realized they are goners. It is highly likely that in your lifetime, you will no longer see the mass manufacturing of gasoline-powered automobiles. My guess is that by 2035, if not sooner, the majority of automobiles sold in the U.S. and Europe will no longer be gasoline powered.

Tesla and Toyota have been the two companies driving much of the technology changes for clean alternatives to gas-powered drivetrains. What Tesla has done with its  “Ludicrous mode” upgrade for the Model S is figure out how to put almost all of the power in its system to all four wheels at once without melting its engine-management components.

The Tesla P85D with the complete 90kWh “ludicrous” upgrade costs about $100,000. The upgrade gives it a 0 to 60 mph time of 2.8 seconds. To put that into context, to get that sort of acceleration from a car previously required a Porsche 918 Spyder (0-60 in 2.3 seconds) or a Bugatti Veyron (2.6 seconds) or a Koenigsegg One (2.5 seconds). They each cost $1.1 million, $2.9 million and $3.8 million respectively.

You can save some money by buying a Lamborghini Huracan ($237,250), or the Ferrari 458 Italia ($239,340) but both are slower than the Tesla. That makes the McLaren 570s a relative bargain at $184,900, but it too, is slower than the Tesla.

Think about what this does to the high-end segment of the auto market. Tesla founder Elon Musk could put a sexier body on the Model S — low-slung, fat tires, gull-wing doors and steal share from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche, Bentley and Bugatti. Or, he can sell entire drive trains to those companies and let them clad the cars with their own bodies. Or both. Whatever happens, the sports-luxury market just had a huge shot fired across its bow.

These major shifts take time. To get an idea of how long a paradigm change takes in an entrenched industry like carmakers, consider these few facts about the Toyota Prius.

It first went on sale in Japan in 1997; it wasn’t until 2000 that it was introduced outside of that country. It was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle in the world. Originally introduced as a compact sedan — weight and power were always issues — it has grown along with the underlying technology. Now it is a midsize hatchback, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board as among the cleanest vehicles sold. Of the 7 million hybrids that Toyota has sold since 1997, almost 5 million have been Priuses. (Toyota now sells 27 different hybrid passenger car models but only one plug-in hybrid model — also a Prius).

Toyota proved with the Prius that a reasonably priced hybrid electric could be a practical vehicle for the ordinary household. Tesla has taken the baton from Toyota, building a true, pure plug-in only electric car. The ramifications are far-reaching.

This issue is more than fodder for discussion at car shows and among enthusiasts; it is going to affect many of the world’s largest companies — automakers such as GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, VW, BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan and Hyundai; oil companies such Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell and BP; and all of the many support businesses in exploration, drilling and shipping. There also are implications for tech companies such as Google and Apple, which have considered building autonomous, advanced-technology vehicles.

I won’t try to predict whether Apple or Google buys Tesla (Google has been more acquisitive than Apple). Or perhaps one of the automakers ponies up the $35 billion to buy Tesla. But someone should.

How might this play out during the next few decades? The incremental changes of better reliability and longer range have reached critical mass in the 15 years since Toyota began selling the Prius worldwide. Other automakers from Porsche to Ford have to be watching for the day when Tesla can manufacture and sell a million cars per year. If they were smart, they would be playing catch-up full on.

The gas-assisted hybrid — think Prius or Chevy Volt — is a transitional vehicle to the fully electric-powered automobile.

Gasoline won’t go away anytime soon. A massive infrastructure for refueling vehicles still exists. Diesel is still needed for long-haul truckers, whose heavy cargo loads and long-distance routes are now impractical for electric battery power. At least for now; at some point in the future, though, that too will change.

Electric-vehicle technology is no longer a novelty. It is inevitable that we will see a series of innovations that are going to invert this business — automakers, energy suppliers and the whole infrastructure that supports cars that run on fossil fuels.



Originally published as: Tesla Just Did Something Really Big  



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  1. Captain Ned commented on Jul 20

    And just how many miles will I get to a “fill-up” in any electric-only car when it’s -25F here in VT in February?

    • willid3 commented on Jul 20

      well its not good. but then gas or diesel power cars also loose efficiency in cold (or hot) weather. also has problems with humidity too. just so far the battery isnt as dense a source of power as gas o diesel.

      but then hydrogen is a much denser source oi energy. once we figure out how to get it efficiently

  2. Jojo commented on Jul 20

    All these speed demon cars with ludicrous 0-60 numbers become meaningless when driverless cars take over! All cars will be the same and traffic will be heavily managed and packed close together, so no room for putting the “pedal to the metal”. Cars may even be programmed to not allow insane speed because that would be dangerous to the human passengers. Welcome to the ‘Humanoids’ book.

  3. NoKidding commented on Jul 20

    Has to compete with a low end Camry in sticker price (NOT ten year operating cost) to move the market. Us little people ouside New York rarely see BMW’s above 3-series, and don’t give a f— about zero to sixty. Prius is the starting point.

    Widespread adoption of Prius-like options (and their obvious plug in offspring), should pressure gasoline price downward and electricity price upward. The expensive capital transition from coal to everything else (assuming those NY liberals keep winning) will add more upward pressure on electricity prices.

    Gas cars will cling on like land line telephones, surviving decades of decline. Because infrastructure exists. Because it works. Because there’s a lot of room to cut priceon a capital intensive system that’s paid itself off.

  4. orsogrigio commented on Jul 20

    I’m afraid that Mr Ritholtz is right … but for the wrong reason. He do is right when says that internal combustion is dying. But future will be really far from sleek, go-fast cars. Tesla is not a Pilgrim Father, is the Last of Mohawks. The future has to be self-driven cars for matters of efficiency, cost, safety, and the car will be, I’m afraid a standard electric powered platform with onboard standard intelligence plus any kind of ‘furniture’ you need today, for this trip (this implies that the whole thing, powered platform + furnitures will most probably be on rent). Such ‘cars’ will adhere to an enormous code of specs and regulations, and I do think both insurance and sheriff will prevent you from driving about by yourself. At this point, the 60 mph in X seconds is something like seeking out the meat you need hunting buffalo in Central Park with a crossbow : it will take the policeman handcuffing you a few seconds before being able to shut his mouth

  5. Concerned Neighbour commented on Jul 20

    Tesla is already planning on building ~500K affordable middle class cars by ~2020, 15 years before BR’s prediction. That’s one company. Gas cars will likely stay on the road for decades, but at an ever declining percentage of the overall vehicle fleet. You don’t replace a century’s worth of infrastructure overnight.

    As for energy costs, if we ever get serious about global warming, gasoline will be much more expensive than it is now (think double the price, like in Europe). Then factor in how technologies like solar keep plummeting in price (already cheaper than coal in many places) and likely improvements in battery technology, and I don’t think electricity will go up nearly as much as you seem to be expecting.

    I think the biggest obstacle to mass adoption of the electric car isn’t cost, but range anxiety. I would expect in the next 20 years this problem to have been solved; hopefully much sooner than that.

  6. theexpertisin commented on Jul 20

    I hope to be around when Barry’s forecast comes true. I will be 84.

    I’ll probably miss out on the domination of driver-less cars. If only I could see the day when law enforcement, insurance companies and lawyers have to find a different method of extracting money from the population instead of using the roads as a cash cow

    And sadly, I may be too late to witness taxing all vehicles for road use at the point of sale or via an annual road use tax, which should really piss off scoundrels living large with their non-fossil fuel cars (or maybe I will see it, it’s coming…..)

  7. b_thunder commented on Jul 20

    “Extreme” cars have 4 purposes: Bragging rights, ability to attract females, abilities on a race-track, and prowess on the autobahn (for those lucky to live near one.)

    Let’s take them one at a time:
    1. Tesla is no longer subject of bragging rights. Every country club parking lot has a few. It’s simply not exclusive enough. Perhaps “ludicrous” P90 will change that… time will tell.
    2. Chick magnet: if anyone thinks that Tesla is a bigger chick magnet than a Ferrari or Audi R8 – get your head checked out by a trained professional.
    3. Race track: Yes, Tesla is good off the line, but can it compete with cheaper BMW M3/M4 or AMG cars around the track? How about 15-20 lap race? Not a chance! Not in terms of speed, nor in terms of fun driving on the limit.
    4. High-speed cruising: Tesla promises up to 300 mile range @55mph. Does anyone know how far can it go @155mph before the need for a lengthy recharge? Gasoline cars need a 5min fill up and they’re ready to go.

    AFAIK, as far $70k+ 4-door high-performance cars go, the logical decision is M3, M5 or an AMG car, not Tesla S.

    Also, the constant recharging and dragging 800 pounds of batteries will never be anywhere close to the maximum efficiency or performance achievable at reasonable cost. The future is electric, but it’ll most likely be hydrogen fuel cells.

  8. J Kraus commented on Jul 20

    While universally popular, 0-60 is a lackluster barometer of performance. When it was first used as a standard measure of acceleration in the early 1950s by Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated magazine, the average car had a top speed of about 85-90 and accomplished the 0-60 trek in around 17 seconds. Given that performance envelope, the 0-60 test was a good guide to judging overall motive power.

    With the vastly higher performance of today’s cars, 0-60 has become an anachronism; it is now basically a measure of launch ability. When measuring an acceleration event of 2-3 seconds duration in an uncontrolled environment, accuracy is compromised by ambient air temperature and density, varying track surfaces, car-to-car production tolerances, and in cars without a specific Launch Mode; driver ability.

    The standard practice of including tenths of a second implies a level of accuracy that is really not there. In 1950 a 0.2 second variance in a 0-60 test (due to any of the aforementioned factors) would be around 1%. When discussing the cars in this chart, the same variance would represent a rather significant error of about 7%.

    0-100 or even 0-120 would bring back some semblance of accuracy and repeatable results, and make far more sense in the context of cars with 500-plus hp. 0-120, while high for the U.S., would accurately mimic accelerating away from tollbooth to cruising velocity on the Autobahn, Autostrata or Autoroute.

    Another measure of straight-line performance (particularly in the realm of supercars) has historically been top (what’ll she do?) speed. Some of the cars on this chart are capable of comfortably exceeding 200 mph. The new Tesla tops out at 155, roughly halfway between a Ford Focus ST (150 mph/$25,000) and Mustang GT (165 mph/$35,000). More than enough, but not quite Super.

  9. willid3 commented on Jul 20

    suspect that it will be the high price of gas that will eventually do in the ic engines. cause when you start measuring the cost charging an electric vs a gas car you really discover how much gas really has cost you.

    as soon as they can figure out how to
    increase the range
    decrease the charge time
    will actually be how long gas cars stick around.
    they are working on the first, with highest priced getting to about 300 miles.
    the later is still a wok in progress

    and consider that many retail (yes retail the cheapest companies on the planet) are putting in ec charges. they must be really cheap for them to do so

  10. Lyle commented on Jul 20

    I recall hearing in the late 1990s that folks were fooling around with electric powered dragsters. However they had a problem the super torque of the electric motor would snap driveshafts. All this suggests is that the torque curve of an electric motor is more fit for 0-60 runs, as the torque curve maxes out at stall (with the shaft not rotating) and goes to zero at the no load speed.

  11. Clif Brown commented on Jul 20

    Bring on the self-driving cars, with the accompanying increase in safety, decrease in insurance premiums, an end to traffic tickets and acceleration madness. Anyone who has spent any time driving in the real conditions encountered in the urban world we live in knows that hard acceleration is purely a demonstration of driver emotion, not needed for safe driving. Impress a friend? Hit the gas. Angry at another driver? Hit the gas. Want to be first before a merge? Hit the gas. Think your ride is quicker than the one next to you at the stoplight? Hit the gas. All of these pointless symptoms of testosterone. I’ve felt the rush and so have you! For our own good, robocars, ASAP.

    • orsogrigio commented on Jul 21

      Clif, I strongly suspect that quicker than we think self-driving cars will not be an option, but the only kind of personal transportation lawful. With sdc you have a forecast death rate per passenger mile equal to zero (let’s imagine in the range of current passanger mile rate in civil aviation), so, once the sdc will achieve that specification, it will be mandatory by law, as to have IFR on civil pluriengines or safety belts on. Once you have a viable alternative, lawmakers HAVE to wipe out a kind of equipment with a (relatively) high kills level. There is no “well regulated (drivers’) militia”

  12. DeDude commented on Jul 20

    Wonder how a car with a 40KWh engine on each of the 4 wheels would perform.

  13. RC commented on Jul 20

    As we sit on the cusp of such transformational technologies like the electric vehicle and the “autonomous vehicle” (aka self driving car), I hope folks realize that it is companies like these that are the “tech” companies (read: google, Tesla) and NOT facebook.

  14. pm2416 commented on Jul 21

    If anything, Barry is not being optimistic enough.

    I own the base Model S (the 70D if you look it up) and the car is a pleasure to own and drive. I did a 1300 mile road trip last weekend in it without difficulty and every morning I get into a car with a fresh 220 miles of range (for a guy who drives ~40-50 miles per day).

    The main problem will be that we have a legal and regulatory system that fails to price in the true cost of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, perhaps because we fail to recognize the true costs and believe there is no better way. The Tesla MS shows that a better way exists. Perhaps this will give us the political courage of countries like Norway who at least attempt to price in the full cost of ICE vehicles.

    Today a car like mine costs ~$85k brand new net of all tax incentives. It can drive itself (if the govt lets them turn all the software on). It will save me a net of $10k in fuel and $2k in maintenance over 5 years. These are ballpark figures but they’re reasonable. Audi, Lexus, Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac will all try to sell a car at around the same price that is inferior. I agree with the writer who said the Toyota Camry is the price point to aim for. We’ll get there.

    With electric vehicles it is no longer a question of “if” but of “when.”

    • DeDude commented on Jul 21

      Agree. When we get a combination of: 2-4x higher energy per weight and per dollar cost for batteries; with a 2-4x higher energy production per sq. ft. and per dollar cost for solar panels, the game will change radically. Huge numbers of people will make their own personal electricity and they will store it in their home and their electric vehicles. Many will go off the grid and either use their Volt like vehicles, or back up generators, for additional energy generation on those 10-15 day per year when they are running seriously short. This will be a major disruption and you will either be ready or swept away.

  15. rd commented on Jul 21

    We bought a 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid this spring. Based on this experience, it is likely that our future cars over the next decade will be hybrids. It has Prius-like fuel efficiency but drives like a high quality mid-sized sedan with ample interior room for four people. The electric motor makes it quieter than the fuel only car. I still have to see how it does in an Upstate NY winter (fuel efficiency will go down because heat is required but I expect it will still be much more fuel efficient than the gas only cars). I don’t expect to see all-electric cars functioning well in our winters for a while – this was the main reason I didn’t go the whole yard into a plug-in hybrid as its full benefit would only be for half the year. It will be interesting to see what happens with all-electric cars and fuel cell cars over the coming decades.

    The only downside is losing 3 cf of trunk space. I think the ongoing advances in battery technology will largely eliminate that over the next decade. However, getting 750 miles of range out of a 15.7 gal tank is a good start for us. We can do a serious road trip (10 hrs driving) on one tank of gas now. Going up and down hills gives us over 50 mpg fuel efficiency because the gas engine shuts off and recharges the battery on the downhill stretches – better battery storage will push that fuel efficiency up in the future as we end up with completely full batteries coming down long, steep hills.

    I think the big shift coming will be when the pick-up trucks and SUVs go hybrid – that will eliminate many current gas-guzzlers. The high torque electric motors will likely work well with towing applications.

  16. Joe commented on Jul 21

    Given that the car will be an appliance, I still believe tthat there will be a place for super cars (and bikes) driven and ridden under human guidance. Maybe out on the open highway or during off peak hours, there will be opportunities to drve and ride for pleasure. Given how hard it’s been to regulate firearms, there probably will be a similar resistance to 100% control of transportation, rational or not.

    I just rode a recently acquired Road Glide to the World Superbike Races in Monterey. Autonomous drive the commutes. I hope to GAWD that weekends on wheels like that don’t go away. DON’T mess with the back roads….

    • orsogrigio commented on Jul 22

      Joe, as I wrote before ” There is no “well regulated (drivers’) militia””. Firearms control conflicts with the Second Emendament, and this offers (and has offered) a lot space to fight it. As you point out, car human guidance is a matter of “pleasure” only, and so rethoric and political position is far weaker. There is one point to consider : if I’m riding a sdc and there are NO hdcs (hdc=human driven car) around, my level of safety is the one offered by the system. If there’s an hdc around MY level of safety is no longer granted, because hdc may have behaviours (like zoom thru a stop at 100 mph when I have precedence) saturating the reaction level of MY car. It’s unlikely, exactly as unlikely to get a .45 bullet in my head while windowshopping down 5th Ave, but until people may go about with a .45 in their pockets, it is possible. Conclusion : once sdc become widespread, hdc will very quickly dismissed

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