Jul 12, 2019

Axios Generate

Ben Geman

Good morning readers.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,092 words, a 4 minute read.

Onto music. This weekend marks 25 years since the late Elliott Smith released his debut album "Roman Candle," which provides today's intro song.

1 big thing: Ford and VW form electric union

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Auto giants Ford and VW rolled out plans Friday to collaborate on electric and autonomous vehicles.

The big picture: Ford will gain access to VW's Modular Electrification Toolkit (MEB) platform and the company's architecture for electric vehicles.

  • The joint announcement says that Ford will "deliver a high-volume zero-emission vehicle in Europe starting in 2023."
  • "Ford expects to deliver more than 600,000 European vehicles using the MEB architecture over six years, with a second all-new Ford model for European customers under discussion," the companies said.

Why it matters: Per Axios auto reporter Joann Muller, the pairing makes sense for both automakers as they try and navigate the fraught and expensive transition to EVs.

  • Ford lags behind several other auto giants on electrification.
  • For VW, opening up use of the MEB tech can provide revenue to help fund its plans to launch almost 70 new electric models over the next 10 years.
  • "Volkswagen will supply [Ford] MEB parts and components as part of the collaboration," the announcement states.

What they're saying: “Scaling our MEB drives down development costs for zero-emissions vehicles, allowing for a broader and faster global adoption of electric vehicles," VW CEO Herbert Diess said in a statement.

Where it stands: The new collaboration marks an expansion of the automakers' existing joint work on commercial vans and pickups.

On the autonomous side of things, VW is investing $2.6 billion in Ford's Argo AI company, giving each automaker an equal stake.

Go deeper: Joann will have more in her excellent Axios Autonomous Vehicles newsletter later this morning. You can sign up here.

2. Why OPEC faces tough sledding

This morning's latest International Energy Agency crude market forecast puts a highlighter pen over why OPEC is having a hard time finding its footing these days.

Driving the news: The IEA sees a global surplus of 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the second half of this year, breaking with its previous expectation of a deficit of that size.

  • Supply ran 900,000 bpd higher than demand during the first half of 2019, it said.

Why it matters: It's the IEA's first market commentary since OPEC, Russia and some allied non-OPEC producers (together called OPEC+) agreed this month to extend their joint production-limiting agreement through next March.

The big picture: Today's report shows why the OPEC+ effort to tighten up the market faces challenges amid signs of economic slowdown and the U.S. production surge.

  • "Clearly, market tightness is not an issue for the time being and any re-balancing seems to have moved further into the future," IEA said.
  • "[T]he widely-anticipated decision by OPEC+ ministers to extend their output agreement to March 2020 provides guidance but it does not change the fundamental outlook of an oversupplied market."

But, but, but: The IEA hasn't further changed last month's downgrade of 2019 oil demand growth, which it is still pegging at 1.2 million bpd for the year.

And it still sees 2020 demand growth rising to 1.4 million bpd. The report also notes:

  • "[T]he mood surrounding the US/China trade dispute appears to have improved and the resolution of outstanding issues would be a massive boost to economic confidence."

Where it stands: The report wasn't enough to send prices significantly downward this morning. There's too much going on.

  • "Oil prices hovered near six-week highs on Friday and was on track for a weekly gain as U.S. oil producers in the Gulf of Mexico cut more than half their output because of a tropical storm and as tensions continued to simmer in the Middle East," Reuters reports.
3. Alaska is entering a new climate era
Expand chart
Reproduced from NOAA; Chart: Axios Visuals

Alaska's recent heat wave has been grabbing headlines, and rightly so: The state has been hotter than parts of the contiguous U.S. during June and July, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

Driving the news: Anchorage hit 90°F for the first time ever, and the heat plus summer thunderstorms have triggered massive wildfires across the state. An area greater than Rhode Island has burned in just the past 11 days.

But this isn't the whole story.

The big picture: The ongoing heat wave is part of a longer-term accelerated warming trend that is altering life for Alaskans, many of whom live in rural communities dependent on ice and snow cover for transportation and hunting.

By the numbers: The most recent heat has been staggering, but so too is the long-term picture. Alaska has now had its:

4. Mining giant may leave coal behind

Bloomberg reports:

"BHP Group is moving ahead with plans to exit thermal coal, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest move by the world’s biggest miners to retreat from the dirtiest fuel."

Why it matters: Bloomberg's piece notes that it "demonstrates how growing climate-change pressure from investors and regulators is reshaping the future of extractive industries."

  • Similarly, the Financial Times reports that BHP's potential move arrives amid a "growing investor focus on environmental, social and governance issues."
  • Thermal coal, the stuff used for power generation, is already just a small slice of the company's earnings, both outlets report.
5. Dem climate forum — not debate — set for September

With the Democratic National Committee refusing to set up a climate-focused primary debate, The New Republic and Gizmodo are doing the next-best thing for anyone hungry to see candidates pressed on their plans.

Driving the news: They announced Thursday that they've scheduled a "presidential climate summit" in New York City on Sept. 23 because "the climate crisis deserves to take center stage in the 2020 primaries."

  • Candidates would appear one by one to answer questions the outlets are crafting with input from Columbia University's Earth Institute.

Why it matters: The event, if top-tier candidates attend, will probe the 2020 hopefuls in a way that's vastly more in-depth than what's possible in a multitopic debate.

The first 2 debates in Miami last month saw just around 15 minutes combined devoted to the topic.

The intrigue: TNR's Emily Atkin and Gizmodo's Brian Kahn stressed in the announcement that they'd like to set up an actual debate — if the DNC changes its tune.

Current DNC policy is that candidates who appear in unsanctioned debates, as opposed to "forums" where they're not onstage together, can be barred from official debates the party sets up with major new outlets.

What's next: We'll see which candidates attend. Atkin told me that outreach to the campaigns during preliminary planning revealed "a lot of interest." The event will occur the same day as a major UN climate conference in NYC.

The other side: DNC chairman Tom Perez, in a Medium post last month, explained why he's rebuffing calls to set up a climate debate.

Ben Geman