Harry Metcalfe recently posted a very interesting video on “Will the 2030 ban & dash to electric cars spell the end for classics in UK?” which prompted quite a bit of discussion around the dinner table a few nights ago. Assuming that the UK’s position on banning the sale of all internal combustion engine (ICE) cars as of 2030 might travel across the Atlantic, especially with the new climate change sensitive incoming administration (vs. the prior’s focus on bringing coal back), there was a lot of concern around the future viability of the ICE cars that we own. However, I believe the reality is closer to a modified version of Bill Gates’ quote “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”. I would change 2 years to 10 in this case and change 10 years to 30. I thought I would try to approach what this all really means for current and future supercars from a few different angles, on-going demand for petrol (i.e can we practically continue using current ICE supercars), legislated wishes running into economic reality, and what this all means for the next generations of supercars.
Putting supercars aside for a minute and looking at the situation across all automobiles, so far, the legislated move from petrol to electric is still quite regional with different goals, targets, and mandates in place depending on the country. While the EU hasn’t yet announced an ICE ban (although a number of EU member states have targets in place), I would expect that the continued tightening of emission standards will effectively lead to one on similar timing with the UK. Multiple other countries (Canada, China, India, Israel, etc) have set objectives to phase out the sale of ICE vehicles and with the incoming Biden administration I would expect the US to now follow the EU’s lead. In all cases (exception Norway) the ban only applies to new cars so looking at the average age of cars on the road, (8 years in the UK and 12 in the US), it will take at least another decade for the normal turnover (6-7% per year in the UK and 5-6% in the US) of the fleet to significantly depress demand for petrol. Hence the supply and demand for petrol will remain significant well into the 2040’s. Currently in the US, 25% of cars on the road are 15 years of older and its around 20% in the UK. Net net, it will be several decades before I will be concerned about finding fuel for any of the ICE cars that we currently own. Hopefully by that time more environmentally friendly biofuels will be widely available which further extend their lifecycle.
As of 2019, Electric Vehicle (EV) car sales were under 2% of the market in the EU, UK, and US. The new car market is 32 million cars per year across all three geographies. The investment needed to scale up EV manufacturing capacity by 50X in the next decade to meet the legislated goals is massive. This doesn’t even take into account the increases in upstream demands for lithium and battery production. Is it possible? Yes, but in a post Covid-19 world, financially the feasibility is questionable. On top of purely being able to supply that number of new EV & batteries cars, the investment that both the public and private sector will be required to make in electrical generation and charging stations is massive. In the UK, the investment just in charging stations is estimated at £16.7 billion (Electric vehicles and infrastructure – UK Parliament) with the EU and US being 5-6 times that figure. At the end of the day my guess is that cash strapped post pandemic governments will push the timing back to smooth the investment needed over a longer period of time. The easiest and probably most face-saving way of doing so is to extend the deadline on phasing out Hybrids by another 5-10 years. This would allow governments to say they are keeping their promises to eliminate ICE while lessening the demand on EV infrastructure.
All of this leaves what the supercar of the future will be in a rather interesting spot. Recent comments by the Ferrari and McLaren CEOs highlighted how they see the future evolving:
Louis Camilleri, the just departed CEO of Ferrari, stated in Ferrari’s Q3 2020 earnings call, “I really don’t see Ferrari ever being at 100 percent EV, and certainly not in my lifetime will reach even 50 percent.”
Mike Flewitt, the CEO of McLaren Automotive, made similar comments in an interview back in September. He said, “electric vehicle (EV) technology isn’t yet ready for supercars but could be gradually phased in over the next 10 years. Full EV, whilst it can work well with commuter cars and in some of the automotive segments, doesn’t really work in the supercar segment. An EV drivetrain can’t yet deliver the same experience as an internal combustion engine. “We retain an internal combustion engine in combination with the electric system to provide the driving experience that the car is all about,” Flewitt said.
The McLaren Automotive CEO also made the point on cost, “We have to look at the other side of the equation a little bit as well and one of the realities for the automotive business is that this move is an extraordinarily expensive move. We’ve just been through a period where all manufacturers have had very serious impacts on their financial position. So, their ability to afford to move at a quicker pace is going to be jeopardized in some way.”
Flewitt said McLaren is moving ahead with hybrid vehicle technology adding that the company sees it as the next logical step. “Hybridization offers a very good solution. We bring down our CO2 emissions very significantly.”
Which if I boil it all down, Ferrari & McLaren are on-board with the move to Hybrids, believe they can deliver Hybrid cars that meet a supercar’s emotional & engagement expectation, and view a move to 100% EV as being far in the future, if it happens at all. Can this be achieved? My guess is probably yes. If governments can get the vast majority of new cars to be zero emission EVs, then giving an exception for high value, very low production, low usage niche products that thousands of jobs depend on is likely quite palatable. Achieving this will require a sustained long term lobbying effort by the major supercar manufacturers but is critical to maintaining the essence of what makes a supercar super.
What I also find quite interesting is that neither CEO is really sold on the idea that an EV supercar can meet customer expectations in terms of the overall “thrill of driving”. You can count me in this camp as well. I recently posted a blog on Hybrids The Hybrids are Coming & I’m Not Excited which outlined my concerns on the move from ICE to Hybrid. If I had concerns going from ICE to Hybrid, they pale in comparison to what the jump to full EV means for supercars. Having driven a number of EVs, the experience has been soulless. If a supercar is about enjoying the journey, an EV is simply an appliance to get you to a destination. Spending time in an EV is like going to your in-laws for dinner, you will get feed but it not likely to be a rewarding experience. While EV technology will most likely deliver better performance numbers than either ICE or Hybrid, the lack of sound, a gearbox, and drive by wire systems make for a very one-dimensional characterless experience. While I do believe that many of my concerns on Hybrids can be overcome, and I’m very much looking forward to driving the Ferrari SF90 & McLaren Artura, I don’t see how it is possible on an EV. However, I do believe there is a market for supercar EVs, it’s just a different subsegment of the target group.
Going back to the article on The Tyranny of Low Mileage, I divided the supercar market up into three basic groups:
Car Art Collectors: tend to be the ones that buy the ultra-low mileage supercars and then park them in climate-controlled garage display rooms from which they rarely, if ever emerge. My very superficial understanding of this group is they basically view cars as pieces of art to be collected like other artistic objects. I guess a $3 million 288 GTO is actually quite reasonable next to what it would cost to acquire a Picasso or Rembrandt. I don’t see these people as petrolheads, they are art collectors.
Value Sensitive Supercar Enthusiast: tend to buy supercars, use them very selectively for a year or two, and then sell before the odometer reaches four digits.
Supercar Enthusiast Driver’s: buy the cars to drive and enjoy and tend to be mileage agnostic. I would like to believe we fall into the third group.
Of the three groups, an EV supercar or hypercar is a completely acceptable option for the Car Art Collectors. On a car that is likely to rarely turn a wheel, the type of powertrain is irrelevant. The second group may have some interest in an EV supercar but is likely to find Hybrids much more appealing as they do use their cars. Its in the third and final group that the older ICE supercars will continued to be cherished and Hybrids accepted as the best new option available.
For the manufacturers, with the possible exception of Ferrari, producing supercars based on three different technologies is likely not financially viable. I would expect McLaren to focus on Hybrids going forward, especially given the profile of their customer base. Aston Martin has a bit more flexibility as it is buying technology from Mercedes so a Hybrid, EV mix is likely. The smaller manufacturers, Koenigsegg and Pagani, will likely go EV, with SCG eventually moving to Hybrid. The next Bugatti will definitely be an EV now that is under Rimac ownership. Should the Pininfarina Battista and Lotus Evija get built, both will also be EVs. For the supercar enthusiast, while the age of new ICE supercars is likely coming to an end shortly, it will be many decades before availability of petrol becomes a significant issue so we will be able to continue to enjoy our existing supercars. By then it’s also likely that a much more environmentally friendly biofuel will be available which should further extend the usability window. Hybrids have the potential to deliver the levels of engagement and performance today’s supercar enthusiast expects so the future is still bright.
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