The Weekend Wonk: Tony Seba on EVs and Energy Disruption

December 20, 2019

I’ve been waiting for a new presentation by Tony Seba – this one is from October of this year.

Seba is such an over-the-top techno-optimist that his presentations in past years have left me charged with hope while shaking my head in disbelief at the same time.
Thing is, developments over the last 5 years haven’t really shown him wrong.
If half of what he says is true, all the more reason to keep working on climate issues, because there really is hope.

Worth your time.

Meanwhile, the most oil-soaked administration in history is desperately trying to kill electric cars (he hasn’t said they cause cancer yet but I’m sure that’s coming) .
Too late – EVs are about to smoke the tires off ICE machines.


The oil industry, a staunch opponent of electric vehicles (EVs), received an early Christmas present from the White House as President Trump reportedly intervened to quash an EV tax credit expansion from inclusion in a government spending package.

The tax credit is meant to help offset the upfront cost of electric vehicles and boost the EV market. Consumers who purchase an EV can currently claim a credit up to $7,500, and the credit phases out once auto manufacturers sell 200,000 qualifying vehicles. Tesla and General Motors have both hit the 200,000-vehicle cap and had lobbied for an extension. A bipartisan proposal called for allowing a $7,000 credit for an additional 400,000 vehicles sold.

That proposal, introduced earlier this year as the Driving America Forward Act, was rolled into a broader package of incentives for renewable energy that proponents hoped to pass as part of an end-of-year spending deal. But groups tied to the Koch network and backed by oil industry funding worked hard to kill the clean energy incentives. These groups sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week urging the Senate to oppose any bill that includes an EV tax credit extension.

Ultimately the EV provision was dropped from the spending package. According to Forbes, “In last-minute negotiations over a massive package of spending bills designed to avert a government shutdown, the EV provision was lost in the shuffle and that was the outcome Republicans and President Trump wanted.”

Trump specifically pushed for excluding the EV tax credit, as Bloomberg reported.

“There has been extreme resistance from the president. I don’t know why the White House would want to stop jobs and the future of the auto industry,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, one of the original sponsors of the Driving America Forward Act.


White House officials warned lawmakers that if they tried to expand the electric vehicle credit as part of a compromise spending bill, it could tank the measure, according to two people familiar with the matter. The issue is particularly heated in the West Wing and among conservatives who view the credit as mainly benefiting rich Californians and Tesla.

8 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Tony Seba on EVs and Energy Disruption”

  1. jimbills Says:

    Techno-optimism loses the big picture.

    Will the future be a whole bunch of EVs and charging stations? Barring economic disaster, yes. The time frame for that is widely disputed – we’ll know it when it happens. Failing to renew the EV tax credits is going to be a dagger in the sales for the next few years, though.

    But, what does this mean? At the best case, it means avoiding the absolute worst cases of the warming scenarios. And this is definitely a positive. But it doesn’t mean we’ll avoid 2 degrees C warming. It doesn’t mean we’ll hit numerous tipping points on climate change. It doesn’t mean we won’t continue to pillage the environment at every other opportunity.

    All technology and the free market does is maintain the growth patterns and overwhelmingly pervasive view that we don’t have real and physical limits to what we can and cannot do to maintain a hospitable biosphere. We’ll just continue gobbling up whatever we can, wherever we can.

    An article today in the Washington Post:
    Top scientists warn of an Amazon ‘tipping point”

    ‘That point of no return, commonly referred to by scientists as a tipping point, “is much closer than we anticipated,” Nobre said in an interview.’

    I’m not saying this to discourage, but to warn. Technology and the free market aren’t real ‘solutions’. They can and have multiple times in the past helped prevent major catastrophes on singular issues, but all the while the big picture environmentally only gets worse and worse. It is very likely technology and the market will help prevent the worst from happening regarding climate change itself. But our story continues, and if we believe we are really ‘solving’ our environmental issues with JUST these two tools, we are tragically and horribly fooling ourselves, and incorrigible techno-optimists are the worst of the lot in doing this.

    This is purely anecdotal, but I saw it a few days ago as a symbol of our unchecked rapacity:
    Hundreds of dead sharks found trapped in massive floating ‘ghost net’

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      BOOK RECOMMENDATION: The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier (2019), by Ian Urbina. From the Thai slave-crewed fishing boats to the waste-dumping cruise lines, it covers the inevitable results of underpoliced profit on the high seas.

  2. jimbills Says:

    Responding to the video itself, Seba’s argument hinges on the concept that almost everyone in America will not own their own cars by 2030 (he says 80% won’t), because everyone (or 95% of vehicle miles) will be on a subscription service with autonomous vehicles. He thinks most of this process will start happening in 2020 or 2021.

    Whatever. That’s insane on the surface, but let’s think of that hypothetically.

    What happens during rush hours when everyone want to use the same vehicles? Seba assumes the total fleet shrinks by 80% because 80% won’t own their own cars, but what about the 100% of people wanting to go different places at the exact same time?

    Because of this, he says traffic will be gone. Anyone who has ever lived in a suburb and worked in an urban center might wonder about how that one will operate.

    Ride sharing, maybe? But say a car goes to pick up four people in a suburb. First off, people don’t ride share much now because they don’t like it. With absolute strangers, it would be even worse. But picking up four people in roughly the same area to be dropped off in roughly the same area is still going to mean a time delay for them.

    Seba discounts or outright ignores human nature. Many who can still afford a car under that scenario will still have one, because they will prefer the security and autonomy it gives them. Individual car ownership won’t vanish just because a subscription model exists. I think he assumes that will happen on an 80% to 100% rate because he doesn’t personally own a car and everyone else will be exactly like him. That’s serious fantasy land stuff. Many people would do the subscription service, but many would also keep their cars as a backup, or for vanity, or for work (for instance, many people haul materials for their jobs, and this would be exceedingly difficult in a subscription service).

    What about parents dropping off children in different places at the same time as everyone else?

    I’m guessing he assumes the 80% figure because that’s roughly the percentage of Americans living in urban/suburban areas. The subscription model would be very tough for rural residents. But 30% of total yearly U.S. vehicle miles were in rural areas. How does he arrive, then, at the 95% subscription-based vehicle miles figure?

    He also infers from the above that there will be 80% less energy use. But if his assumptions are incorrect, doesn’t that go out the window? This then, leads into his estimates for a peak oil demand time frame and for total emissions reductions.

    I do think a subscription model for cars will happen, and that is very interesting to consider, but I’m highly skeptical of that time frame or adoption rate. His inferences about emissions reductions, less traffic, oil usage, lower emissions, and freed urban space are likely to happen, but in significantly lower amounts than he is estimating in that video.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Part of what took out GE power projections was the rapid rejection of nuclear by many companies due to the Fukushima disaster from a tsunami created by one of the ten highest magnitude earthquakes ever measured.

      While Seba talked about the advances in processing power and AI learning, his glowing expectation of early success made me wonder, considering the Uber test car that couldn’t suss out the woman jaywalking across a four-lane road at night with a bicycle and had a fatal collision, that liability will be a particularly high expense in the early days.

      • Abel Adamski Says:

        That is why Tesla uses different technology and learns from every mile driven whether on autopilot or not (operates in shadow mode – still does the assessment and decision making but without any control output and when the driver does something different to what the computer would have done an exception report with all sensor input etc including several seconds before sent to Tesla AI team).
        Uber depends too much on simulations, Lidar and Geofencing

  3. Abel Adamski Says:

    The Auto manufacturers that will be most affected by not extending the tax credits (so will be subject to the 200,000 car ceiling) will be the newer entrants, VW group, Mercedes and Ford etc – they do not have the volume, technology or expertise to be cost competitive with Tesla.
    However for Tesla as their cash position keeps improving along with their innovations in the manufacturing process and batteries, their prices and desirability keeps improving creating major hurdles for GM, Ford etc

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The hurdles won’t seem so high if they can smell the market advantage of the transition.

      • Abel Adamski Says:

        It is a matter of which brands will survive and which ones will be absorbed.
        VW has just built 20,000 ID3’s and discovered major software problems and to compound the issue one of the software packages that isn’t working is their over the air update. Meaning first they have to fix all the software issues then engineers have to manually upgrade every single car.
        Excepting GM which is partnering with LG to build a 35GWh Battery factory in the US, the rest are just buying off existing Battery manufacturers except Tesla who have their own battery research scientists and teams and a partnership with Panasonic and a Gigafactory actually producing close to 35GWh in 2170 batteries and still buys 1860 batteries from Pana and who ever else can deliver what they want. However they have bought out Maxwell Technologies with their dry printing tech (Not actually completely exclusive as any photocopier or laser printer company uses similar technology) however Maxwell is years ahead of the rest in the application and Tesla has purchased Hibar – designs and makes the machines that make batteries, Tesla is also very advanced in AI and its application in machines that make the machines and owns Grohmann (in Germany) who design and manufacture production line robots (including the ones that turn all the cells into a completed battery pack – part of the reason they have managed to bring battery pack costs down so fast)
        Plus at their Battery and Powertrain Investor day in March they are expected to announce their Million Mile Battery which also has greater power density and charge discharge capability.
        Tesla was able to offer the Dual Motor owners a power and acceleration upgrade of 50KW (approx 80h.p) and 0.5 Secs off the 0-60 for $2,000 over the air.
        China wants Tesla to build another 2 or 3 at least Gigafactories and have a very attractive line of credit available for them to do so, plus the German Gigafactory expected to be operational; late 2021 (Germany has to show they can match the Chinese where GF3 took 10 months from first work to rolling out the first car when the US and European experts were claiming it couldn’t be done under 2 years.
        Legacy auto has too much debt tied up in their ICE engine manufacturing and production lines and supply chains geared to silo’d manufacturing and design whereas Tesla is vertically tightly integrated.
        Plus Legacy auto is handicapped by their dealer networks (make their money from servicing, maintenance and repairs and parts) and their legal requirement to maintain parts for all the models they have sold

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