Nov 22, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,247 words, ~ 5 minutes.

And at this moment in 1977, Fleetwood Mac was ending a very long run atop the Billboard album charts with "Rumours," so the band's craftsmanship opens today's edition...

1 big thing: The electric pickup moment

Tesla's Cybertruck. Photo: Courtesy of Tesla

Tesla last night unveiled its futuristic "Cybertruck" at an L.A. event that was heavy on light shows, yet analysts remain in the dark about the future of electric pickups — and Tesla's role in it.

Why it matters: The event was the splashiest sign yesterday that automakers are moving closer to bringing electric models to the huge pickup market.

  • But it wasn't the only one. Yesterday, GM CEO Mary Barra said its planned electric pickup will go on sale in the fall of 2021.
  • More broadly, the startup Rivian is also bringing an EV pickup to market, while Ford is electrifying the popular F-150 model (though its timeline is unclear).

Driving the news: Tesla's unveiling showed how the automaker's strategy is bringing something radically new to the scene and betting there's a market for it.

"Trucks have been the same for a very long time, like a hundred years," CEO Elon Musk said on stage. "We want to try something different."

Tesla says production is slated to begin in late 2021, and a year later for the high-end version.

The important numbers: There are three models...

  • A base single-motor, rear-wheel-drive model starting at $39,900 with a 250-mile range; a dual-motor all-wheel-drive version with a 300-mile range that starts at $49,000; and a top-end "tri-motor" all-wheel-drive version that starts at $69,900 that can travel 500 miles on a full charge.
  • The high-end model goes from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and has a towing capacity north of 14,000 pounds, Tesla said. The base model tows at least 7,500 pounds and goes from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds.

What they're saying: "The looks are polarizing, but the performance and pricing specs are undeniable," Kelley Blue Book executive publisher Karl Brauer said in remarks circulated to reporters.

  • Brauer sees plenty of demand among current Tesla owners, but predicts that "current pickup truck buyers will find its exterior design and electric drivetrain too far of a leap for most of them to make."
  • But, but, but: He sees a chance for the truck to move into the traditional consumer market if Tesla can build a lot of them and early adopters are "fully satisfied."

"It misses the core truck buyer," Gene Munster of Loup Ventures tells Bloomberg. "A contractor is not going to show up to a worksite in this truck. That said, Tesla will still sell some of them."

One more thing: For those of you seeking omens, the event delivered on that front. CNBC has more...

"Musk claimed the car was 'bulletproof' against a 9mm handgun. But when he got Tesla’s chief designer to throw a metal ball at one of its armored windows, audible surprise could be heard as the glass smashed — twice."

Bonus: The U.S. pickup market
Expand chart
Data: Wards Intelligence; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Here's one reason a number of automakers want in on EV pickups: in theory, it's a big market.

The big picture: Check out the chart above, which shows the popularity of the segment.

  • Light-duty pickup sales are often in the 2-3 million per year range, sometimes accounting for nearly a fifth of overall light-duty vehicle sales.
  • Maintaining or tapping into that market is an attractive thing for automakers.
  • But how much of it Tesla can attract with its unusual new machine is unclear.
2. Big oil's recycling bet

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Two of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers — BP and Shell — are getting into the recycling business as they ramp up operations to make plastics, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Why it matters: Most people associate oil companies with gasoline. But they also generate the building blocks of plastics that are interwoven into our lives. The durable material is littering the planet given lackluster recycling rates.

Driving the news: Shell announced Thursday what it called a “breakthrough” with hard-to-recycle plastics — like takeout food containers and laundry detergent bottles.

The oil producer said it made chemicals using raw material manufactured from that kind of plastic waste, processed by Atlanta-based Nexus Fuels LLC.

BP, meanwhile, plans to build a pilot plant to test new technology the company says allows single-use plastics, like plastic bottles, to be recycled over and over again, Reuters reported last month.

The big picture: The oil industry is eyeing growth in petrochemicals — the plastic building blocks — to offset anticipated lower oil demand elsewhere, particularly transportation as electric cars become more common in a world that is increasingly tackling climate change.

  • That’s about 6%–7% of the entire amount of raw material the company uses each year, according to Thomas Casparie, executive vice president for chemicals at Shell Chemicals.

The other side: Environmentalists say oil companies betting on this type of recycling, known as chemical since it changes the chemical makeup of the material, will justify ever-more investments in petrochemical plants, according to Steven Feit of the nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law.

Go deeper: Oil companies double down on plastics as public outcry grows

3. House Democrats' big and vague climate move

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Top House Democrats are taking a page from the Green New Deal playbook by offering a sweeping proposal that’s aimed at building momentum — but leaves tough choices for later.

Driving the news: Yesterday, over 150 House Democrats floated legislation aimed at bringing the country to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Rep. Donald McEachin's bill is co-sponsored by chairs and senior members of several committees, including leaders on Energy and Commerce, and Transportation and Infrastructure.

Why it matters: The bill has no chance in the current Senate and under President Trump. But the choreographed rollout is a sign of organizing on the topic.

  • I got a burst of supportive press releases from establishment green groups — like the Center for American Progress and League of Conservation Voters — as the bill was unveiled.
  • And the backing and the co-sponsorship of various committee leaders very likely signals an effort blessed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though her aides did not respond to an inquiry.

How it works: The plan requires every federal agency to craft plans — which can include regulations, incentives and more — that are aimed at getting the country to the net-zero goal.

It also envisions agencies letting Congress know of additional powers they may need.

But, but, but: It leaves a lot of policy details be sorted out later, to say the least.

The sweeping bill doesn't wade into any policy specifics or thorny questions — such as the role of nuclear power and carbon capture tech — where the left isn't united.

What's next: Rep. Paul Tonko, a senior Energy and Commerce Committee member, tells The Washington Examiner that the bill is a framework for more detailed legislation that he and others are working on.

4. Feds bless new LNG projects

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yesterday approved three liquefied natural gas export projects in Texas and also green-lit the expansion of a fourth existing operation.

Why it matters: The sign-offs are the latest step in the continuing expansion of U.S. export projects that are tapping into huge domestic supplies and backed by successive administrations.

But, but, but: Bloomberg, which notes the projects would roughly double current U.S. export capacity, reports on "doubts" that they will actually be built. The piece describes the headwinds in the LNG market:

  • "The nation is already sending more gas overseas than ever as shale output surges. But prices have collapsed amid the U.S.-China trade war and a worldwide glut of the heating and power-plant fuel, making buyers increasingly unwilling to sign the long-term contracts needed to develop multibillion-dollar terminals."

FERC approved six other new projects earlier this year.

* * *

Speaking of oil-and-gas, Reuters reports: "Exxon Mobil plans to sell up to $25 billion of oil and gas fields in Europe, Asia and Africa in its biggest asset sales for decades, seeking to free up cash to focus on a handful of mega-projects."

Ben GemanAmy Harder