There is one aspect that probably has the single greatest control over the success of electric vehicles.  It is not range, it is not price, and it is not the availability of rapid charging stations.  It is the cost of gas.

As both GM and Nissan have hinted at in the past, the list price of upcoming electric drive vehicles will be largely determined by the cost of gasoline upon the release of the vehicle.  If gas prices are high, electric drive vehicles will be in high demand thus driving their prices up, if gas prices are low, few buyers may be interested in such vehicles forcing automakers to drop prices and possibly take a loss.

The newest numbers posted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration do no look promising for EV makers.  Predictions for the short term show that gas prices will remain relatively low.  The short term outlook shows gas prices at $2.84 next summer, followed by $2.96 in 2011.  The numbers show only a slight increase from the 2009 average of $2.46 and do not come near the prices seen in the summer of 2008 when automakers decided to begin development of these electric drive vehicles.  Summer of 2008 saw prices roar to over $4 a gallon and returning to those highs could be a decade or more away.

What does this mean for EVs?  Low gas prices will almost certainly lead to low demand, not only for EVs, but also for fuel efficient vehicles.  Buyers will still show strong demand for SUVs and full-size trucks.  The extensive development costs of EVs are not likely to pay-off for automakers if gasoline prices stay low and if demand is low, automakers may back out of the market.

The future situation is unpredictable, but previous automotive sales charts and a quick glance at gasoline costs at the time show that their is a direct correlation between the cost of gas and the type of vehicle Americans buy.  Hopefully EVs can overcome this hurdle by offering buyers an opportunity to drive gas free, a new and uncharted market that may beat the odds.

Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration


  • This edition of the Short-Term Energy Outlook is the first to include monthly forecasts through December 2011.
  • EIA expects that the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil, which averaged $62 per barrel in 2009, will average about $80 and $84 per barrel in 2010 and 2011, respectively. EIA's forecast assumes that U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) grows by 2.0 percent in 2010 and by 2.7 percent in 2011, while world oil-consumption-weighted real GDP grows by 2.5 percent and 3.7 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
  • Escalating crude oil prices drive the annual average regular-grade gasoline retail price from $2.35 per gallon in 2009 to $2.84 in 2010 and $2.96 in 2011. Pump prices are likely to pass $3 per gallon at some point during the upcoming spring and summer. Projected annual average diesel fuel retail prices are $2.98 and $3.14 per gallon, respectively, in 2010 and 2011.
  • EIA expects the annual average natural gas Henry Hub spot price for 2010 to be $5.36 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf), a $1.30-per-Mcf increase over the 2009 average of $4.06 per Mcf. The price will continue to increase in 2011, averaging $6.12 per Mcf for the year.
  • The annual average residential electricity price changes slightly over the forecast period, falling from 11.6 cents per kilowatthour (kWh) in 2009 to 11.5 cents in 2010, and then rising to 11.7 cents per kWh in 2011.
  • Projected carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels, which declined by 6.1 percent in 2009, increase by 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively, as economic recovery contributes to an increase in energy consumption.

Global Crude Oil and Liquid Fuels

Crude Oil and Liquid FuelsOverview.  The world oil market should gradually tighten in 2010 and 2011, provided the global economic recovery continues as projected.  While countries outside of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will lead 2010 demand recovery, OECD countries should begin to show significant oil demand growth in 2011 in response to improving economic conditions.  Projected economic growth in the OECD more than doubles from 1.2 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in 2011.

Although compliance with cuts announced by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has weakened and global oil inventories and spare production capacity remain very high by historical standards, expectations of a continued global economic turnaround have continued to buttress oil markets.  EIA expects that WTI prices, which have been trending upward since February 2009, will continue to increase in 2010 and 2011.

Global Crude Oil and Liquid Fuels Consumption.  Global oil demand declined in 2009 for the second consecutive year, the first time since 1983 that this had occurred.  The decline bottomed out in the middle of 2009, as the world economy began to recover in the last half of the year (World Liquid Fuels Consumption Chart).  EIA expects this recovery to continue in 2010 and 2011, contributing to global oil demand growth of 1.1 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2010 and 1.5 million bbl/d in 2011. Non-OECD countries are likely to account for most of this growth in 2010, although projected demand in the United States increase slightly by 0.2 million bbl/d after a very weak 2009.  China continues to lead world consumption growth with projected increases of more than 0.4 million bbl/d in both 2010 and 2011.

Non-OPEC Supply.  Non-OPEC oil supply increased by more than 0.6 million bbl/d in 2009, the largest annual increase since 2004.  Higher production in the United States, Brazil, and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) were the largest contributors to this growth.  However, very little net increase in non-OPEC supply is expected over the forecast period.  Projected non-OPEC supply increases by 0.4 million bbl/d in 2010 but then falls slightly by more than 0.1 million bbl/d in 2011.  The largest source of growth over this period is Brazil (0.4 million bbl/d), the result of rising offshore and biofuels production.  The United States and the FSU each contribute an additional 0.2 million bbl/d of growth.  However, large declines in production from the North Sea (0.7 million bbl/d) and Mexico (0.4 million bbl/d) are responsible for offsetting these sources of growth, underlying the low overall growth during the forecast period (see STEO Supplement: Outlook for non-OPEC Oil Supply in 2010-2011).

OPEC Supply.  As many market observers had expected, at its 155th meeting in December 2009 OPEC decided for the time being to keep its current oil production levels unchanged.  Although OPEC faces a global oil market that has firmed in response to its production cuts since last January, the strength and durability of the global economic recovery is still uncertain.  EIA expects that annual average OPEC crude oil production, which declined by almost 2.2 million bbl/d on average in 2009, will increase by an average of about 0.5 million bbl/d per year through 2011 as global oil demand recovers.  In addition, EIA expects OPEC non-crude petroleum liquids, which are not subject to OPEC production targets, to grow by 0.6 million bbl/d in 2010 and by 0.7 million bbl/d in 2011.

OPEC surplus crude oil production capacity, which averaged 2.8 million bbl/d during the 1998-2008 period (OPEC Surplus Crude Oil Production Capacity Chart), will continue to remain high, with surplus capacity reaching almost 6 million bbl/d by the end of the forecast period.  As a result of the low growth in non-OPEC supply, OPEC market share could increase to 42 percent in 2011, from 40 percent in 2009.  The combination of higher market share and the relatively high level of surplus production capacity would give the group greater influence over the world oil market in the coming years.  OPEC is scheduled to meet in Vienna on March 16, 2010, to reassess the market.

OECD Petroleum Inventories.  EIA estimates OECD commercial oil inventories were 2.69 billion barrels at the end of 2009, equivalent to about 58 days of forward cover, and about 80 million barrels more than the 5-year average for the corresponding time of year (Days of Supply of OECD Commercial Stocks Chart).  Projected OECD oil inventories remain at the upper end of the historical range over the forecast period.

Crude Oil Prices.  WTI crude oil spot prices averaged $74.50 per barrel in December 2009, about $3.50 per barrel lower than the prior month's average.  This decline reflected price weakness during the first 2 weeks of December as the WTI spot price fell from $78 to $70.  However, colder-than-normal weather and U.S. crude oil and product inventory draws that exceeded the December 5-year averages helped push the WTI spot price back up to $79 per barrel by the end of the month.  EIA forecasts that WTI spot prices will weaken over the next few months, averaging $76 per barrel in March, before rising to about $82 per barrel in the late spring and to $85 by late next year (West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil Price Chart).

Expected WTI price volatility continued to edge lower going into the new year.  Crude oil futures market participants were pricing March 2010 options at an implied volatility slightly below 40 percent per annum at the beginning of December 2009, and the level dropped to an average of 34 percent over the 5 days ending on January 7, 2010.  March 2010 WTI futures averaged $82 per barrel over that same 5-day window.  Thus, the lower and upper limits of the 95-percent confidence interval for the March 2010 futures price were $66 per barrel and $102 per barrel, respectively (see Energy Price Volatility and Forecast Uncertainty).

During the same period last year, market participants were pricing March-delivered WTI into Cushing, Oklahoma, at $50 per barrel.  However, the implied volatility of 87 percent was more than twice the current level, resulting in lower and upper limits of $29 and $87 per barrel, respectively, for the 95-percent confidence interval.  Global oil markets still were adjusting to highly uncertain conditions following a price collapse from all-time highs for WTI futures in mid-2008.

U.S. Crude Oil and Liquid Fuels

U.S. Liquid Fuels Consumption.  Liquid fuels consumption declined by 810,000 bbl/d, or 4.2 percent, in 2009, the second consecutive annual decline (U.S. Liquid Fuels Consumption Growth Chart).  Motor gasoline was the only major petroleum product whose consumption did not decline, having increased by a scant 0.1 percent.  Despite the cold weather that gripped much of the Nation in late December, average annual distillate fuel consumption declined by 330,000 bbl/d, or 8.3 percent, in 2009, led by a precipitous decline in transportation usage.  EIA projects total petroleum products consumption will rise by 210,000 bbl/d in 2010, or 1.1 percent, due to a moderate economic recovery that began late in 2009.  All major products contribute to that increase.  Consumption of motor gasoline rises by 50,000 bbl/d, or 0.6 percent, and distillate fuel consumption increases by 80,000 bbl/d, or 2.1 percent.  The projected continuing economic recovery in 2011 boosts total petroleum products consumption by 220,000 bbl/d.  Both motor gasoline and distillate consumption rise by about 70,000 bbl/d in 2011.

U.S. Crude Oil and Liquid Fuels Supply.  Domestic crude oil production averaged 5.31 million bbl/d in 2009, up 360,000 bbl/d from 2008 (U.S. Crude Oil Production Chart).  The forecast growth in domestic output slows in 2010 with an increase of 130,000 bbl/d and then declines slightly by 20,000 bbl/d in 2011.  Ethanol production continues to grow to meet the volume requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.  Projected ethanol production, which averaged 690,000 bbl/d in 2009, increases to an average of 790,000 bbl/d in 2010 and 840,000 bbl/d in 2011.

U.S. Petroleum Product Prices.  Monthly average regular-grade gasoline prices increased from $1.79 per gallon in January 2009 to $2.61 per gallon in December 2009. EIA expects these prices to average $2.84 per gallon in 2010 and $2.96 per gallon in 2011.  Pump prices are likely to pass $3 per gallon at some point during the upcoming spring and summer.  Because of growth in motor gasoline consumption, the difference between the average gasoline retail price and the average cost of crude oil widens in 2010 before starting to level out in 2011

On-highway diesel fuel retail prices, which averaged $2.46 per gallon in 2009, average $2.98 per gallon in 2010 and $3.14 in 2011.  As with motor gasoline, the expected recovery in the consumption of diesel fuel in the United States, as well as growth in distillate fuel usage outside the United States, strengthens refining margins for distillate throughout the forecast period.