Nov 21, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,167 words, ~ 4 minutes.

And yesterday marked the 1971 release date of Sly and the Family Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: The Dems' disjointed climate debate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The climate chatter in last night's Democratic primary debate lacked a narrative through-line but produced interesting moments nonetheless.

Mayor Pete made an agriculture pitch ahead of Iowa. Buttigieg is the frontrunner in a closely watched recent poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers.

  • And he didn't pass up the chance to emphasize his ideas around the climate-agriculture nexus (which, to be sure, had been revealed before last night).
  • "I believe that the quest for the carbon-negative farm could be as big a symbol of dealing with climate change as the electric car in this country," Buttigieg said in redirecting a question about farm subsidies.
  • His plan would, among other things, pay farmers for soil management practices that store carbon.

Nobody would complain it was too granular (or revealing). MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked the lone question.

  • It wasn't structured to draw out policy specifics. And it didn't. She asked how candidates would "secure leadership and bipartisan support" for a multidecade effort.
  • What they're saying: I'm outsourcing the rest of this segment to FiveThirtyEight's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, who observes that climate discussion in the debates thus far hasn't been especially specific.
  • "Maybe that’s partially because of the questions that are being asked? It’s obviously a hugely important topic, but one where it seems difficult to have a substantive back-and-forth in a debate," she wrote on their liveblog.

Bookmark this Joe Biden comment. "I think it is the existential threat to humanity. It's the number-one issue," he said (emphasis added).

  • Quick take: Let's say Biden wins the White House and Democrats somehow eke out a small Senate majority.
  • He'll face a near-term decision about where to spend his political capital and which major legislation to push first if a narrow window opens. If it's the "number-one issue," does that mean it's first in line?

The Bernie Sanders-Pete Buttigieg contrast. Sanders was aggressive, noting at one point that "the fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable" because they "lied when they had the evidence" and deserve prosecution (it's an idea in his wider plan released in August).

Buttigieg at one point talked up outreach to "conservative communities where a lot of people have been made to feel that admitting climate science would mean acknowledging they're part of the problem."

  • I'm not saying those concepts are mutually exclusive!
  • Both have wide-ranging climate plans, though Sanders' $16 trillion is the most aggressive (and rather controversial).
  • But the two men's tenor is just different.
Bonus: Final debate thoughts

Tom Steyer made an important point by saying that housing policy is climate policy, noting "how we build units, where people live has a dramatic impact on climate and on sustainability."

Climate surfaced repeatedly in answers even outside the lone direct question, which shows how the topic is now stitched into the fabric of Democratic politics.

A Biden-Steyer exchange produced some minor fireworks, which the Washington Examiner unpacks here and The Los Angeles Times describes here.

2. Chart of the day: the production gap
Expand chart
Data: 2019 Production Gap Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yesterday, we wrote about the new report from several groups on the "production gap" — the chasm between anticipated fossil fuel production and what's consistent with holding global temperature rise to ambitiously low levels.

The big picture: The chart above starkly lays out the core point of the report. "This gap is the discrepancy between national plans and projections for fossil fuel production and global production levels consistent with 1.5°C or 2°C pathways," the study states.

Why it matters: Michael Lazarus, a lead author with the Stockholm Environment Institute, tells National Geographic: "This report shows, for the first time, just how big the disconnect is between Paris temperature goals and countries’ plans and policies for coal, oil, and gas production."

3. What we're watching: Tesla's pickup debut

Tesla will take the wraps off its long-awaited pickup truck in Los Angeles tonight.

Why it matters: Pickups are enormously popular with U.S. consumers, but Tesla will have competition in this space even if — if! — electric trucks become a thing. Ford and GM are also both working on models, too.

What we're watching: The usual stuff — like price (CEO Elon Musk has said he'd like to keep the starting price below $50,000), range and strength.

  • A big question is how futuristic the truck is. Musk has teased the idea that it will be like something out of a sci-fi movie.
  • I love the movie "Blade Runner," and Musk pointed out via Twitter recently that it's set in L.A. in November of 2019, the same month, year and place where the classic 1982 flick is set.
  • Maybe he's seen things we won't believe in preproduction (sorry, I had to).

The intrigue: Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs tells me she's doubtful that many current pickup drivers are interested in electric models.

  • She cites survey work Cox has done showing trucks are far down the list of vehicle types considered for future EV buys.
  • However, she said Tesla and other makers could find "a whole new audience for pickup trucks — people who wouldn’t buy a regular pickup but would buy an electric one."
4. What they're saying about Tesla's pickup

Bernstein analysts, in a note this week, said the global market for pickups north of $30,000 is around 2.5-3 million annually and heavily concentrated in the U.S.

But, but, but: They write that Musk has hinted that the truck "may sell relatively few units," and the analysts suspect this could stem from...

  • The truck's futuristic design
  • The likely price point, noting the "relatively higher prices for mid and higher trim levels"
  • The "strong market concentration and historic brand loyalty of pickup buyers."

“I really don’t anticipate the truck will be a high-volume vehicle for Tesla, but it will generate enthusiasm in the core of its customers,” Mike Ramsey, an analyst with the firm Gartner, tells Forbes in this informative preview.

One big question: Getting back to Michelle Krebs' point above, it remains to be seen how much the truck can appeal to existing pickup buyers.

  • “I think Tesla’s in kind of a unique position in which they can almost become the anti-pickup-truck pickup truck, because they’re not necessarily having to stick with the same formula people have used in the past,” Edmunds' Jessica Caldwell tells The Verge.

“I think pickup truck buyers are probably more flexible than we give them credit for," she tells the publication.

What's next: The Bernstein note predicts that Tesla will target production beginning in late 2020 or early 2021, with deliveries starting in early-to-mid 2021.

5. Catch up fast: Rick Perry, Aramco, EVs

Capitol Hill: Via Reuters, "U.S. diplomat Gordon Sondland testified on Wednesday that he had informed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in July that Ukraine’s president would comply with President Donald Trump’s request for a probe of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, where Joe Biden’s son was a board member."

  • But, but, but: Politico reports that DOE is pushing back against Sondland's testimony.

Oil-and-gas: Per the Financial Times ($), "Global banks advising on the Saudi Aramco flotation have been marginalised in the final stage of the process, as the kingdom turns to local brokers to sell shares in the oil company to domestic investors."

Electric cars: Via TechCrunch, "The Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4MATIC, the German automaker’s first all-electric vehicle under its new EQ brand, will start at $67,900 when it arrives in the U.S. early next year."

  • Why it matters: The piece says the pricing is "notable because it’s below competitors like the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X."
Ben GemanAmy Harder