What's With 2012?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 21 Sep 2009

Take your pick on what will happen on December 21, 2012.

A. The world will end.
B. The apocalypse will begin.
C. Singularity will occur.
D. Mankind will experience a great, transformational awakening emotionally and psychologically.
E. The Earth's magnetic fields will reverse.
F. You'll be able to buy Fisker's new $39,000 plug-in hybrid sedan.

The year 2012 keeps cropping up in the automotive world as the date when a number of firms, both large (Nissan) and small (Fisker) are planning to launch retail sales/leasing of their future electric drive vehicles. In Nissan's case, it's the Leaf, which it will begin to sell/lease in North America and Japan starting in 2012, following two years to limited fleet and consumer trials in the dozen or so cities in North America that have agreed to help deploy charging stations.

2012 is also the year when Better Place expects to have its "pay-by-the-mile" electric car leasing program in place in Israel and Denmark, followed shortly thereafter by Australia.

Toyota has slated the year as the retail debut of the plug-in Prius.

2012 is the year you're likely to be able to take delivery on the Tesla Model S, although company CEO Elon Musk is shooting for 2011.

Competitor Fisker is rumored to be preparing a $39,000 plug-in hybrid model for production in 2012.

You may also be able to buy/lease a plug-in hybrid version of the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner right around 2012.

Hyundai and Kia have announced they will commence North American sales of their respective plug-in hybrids in, yes, 2012.

Assuming it can get the necessary capital to launch production, Bright Automotive hopes to begin production of its IDEA electric delivery van in 2012.

Ten days later, IF January 1, 2013 rolls around, we can expect to see Volkswagen begin early introduction of the newly-introduced E-Up! electric car.

Of course, the timing of all these announcements could be thrown off by any number of causal factors from a longer-than-expected recessionary recovery, China restricting the export of rare earth elements, oil price gyrations from triple digit spikes to double digit dips, any or all of which could throw a spanner ('monkey wrench' for us Yanks) in carmaker plans.

Still, I keep wondering why the seemingly uniform focus on 2012 on the part of car manufacturers? The likely answer is simply coincidence. It takes time to plan the production of any vehicle and since everyone started essentially at the same point -- roughly about the time GM decided to commit to building the Volt -- then project that forward four years and you arrive at 2012.

On the other hand, what's the hurry? The consensus is that it will take a decade or more to build a significant market for electric cars; VW is suggesting 2020, for example, before it sees its E-Up! becoming the 21st century equivalent of the Beetle. But even here, there's a glimmer of insight as to why VW's management sees a market for millions of electric cars over the next decade.

Why? My suspicion is they privately believe demand for oil will begin outstripping the planet's capacity to produce it, a thesis being increasingly accepted within the energy and financial services industry. The latest to climb on board is Iain Reid, the head of European oil and gas research for Australia's Macquarie investment bank.

Reid believes the world's oil production capacity will peak this year at 89.6 million barrels a day. Reporting on Reid's pessimistic analysis, the Toronto's Globe and Mail noted that this will inevitably start to fall.

Underinvestment in mature fields, rising resource nationalism, and the cost and difficulty of retrieving oil from discoveries in ultra-deep water could see global production capacity fall to 87.3 million bpd by 2015

But even before we hit 2015, he sees the world's current "spare capacity cushion of around 5.2 million barrels wiped out by 2012."

I'll leave it to you to decide why carmakers are hurrying to get at least a few electric-drive cars on the road by this pivotal year. Or maybe they're just planning for the great New Age awakening of a more enlightened global consciousness on the part of humanity.

Wikipedia has an informative discussion on the topic of the speculation surrounding the Mayan calendar and 2012.

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