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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

When the world's automakers are scrambling to retool into electric and driverless mobility companies, they are thinking about this number: 1 billion.

That's how many cars it is estimated will be added to the global fleet as early as 2030, igniting a frenzy over who will capture the sale of these probably much cleaner, higher-tech vehicles.

Why it matters: 1 billion is a large number. It will double the current number of cars on the road. And, at a rate of 80 million cars sold annually around the world, it is sufficient to build and sustain numerous trillion-dollar companies, a geopolitically defining scale of wealth.

  • What very few analysts are considering: The actual prize may be much higher — at least some of the existing global fleet may be up for grabs, too, in a gigantic future, one-time-only bout of automobile obsolescence.

What's going on: By the second half of the next decade, the cost of electric and combustion drive trains will converge, and then cross over, according to Bloomberg NEF, which studies renewable energy tech. Electric cars will become cheaper than conventional combustion systems, BNEF says.

  • At that point, electric car sales will boom, BNEF and other analysts forecast.
  • BNEF estimates that there will be 30 million electrics on the road around the world in 2030, up from 4 million today, and 560 million, a third of the global fleet, in 2040.
  • The International Energy Agency forecasts 125 million electrics by 2030.

There is no estimate for sales of self-driving cars, as commercial models do not exist yet. But almost every major automaker on the planet is pouring billions of dollars into creating electrics, driverless cars or both, often combined.

  • Daimler explicitly targeted this future yesterday by setting in motion a succession in which it will elevate Dieter Zetsche, director of its electric and driverless car efforts, to CEO, reports the WSJ's William Boston.

Driving the news: The developing world, chiefly China and India, will account for about 85% of the 1 billion cars to be added to the global fleet, analysts say.

  • Given government policy, at least in China — which is promoting electric vehicles — many of those cars may be electric.
  • If sales so far are any indicator, a lot of them won't be the type currently made or planned by BMW, Tesla or GM. Instead, they are likelier to be dominated by "micro-EVs," tiny electrics costing as little as $1,000, which accounted for two-thirds of the 2.5 million EVs sold in China last year.
  • At least at this stage, Chinese and not Western companies seem likeliest to dominate those 1 billion vehicle sales.

Be smart: The surer market for the planned high-tech vehicles is advanced countries — those that currently have the least growth. But if they are to sell in the expected volumes, the market needs to start retiring cars a lot faster than the current dozen or so years they currently stay on the road. And there is reason to believe they will.

The argument: At some stage, AI-infused sensors and other self-driving features will make such cars much safer than conventional, human-driven vehicles, analysts say. When that happens, they could trigger a change in social perception in which, for instance, a critical mass of parents are no longer willing to allow their children to drive in less-safe conventional cars.

  • At this point, a large number of the conventional car fleet could become obsolete.
  • As of now, Tesla sells the most self-driving electrics, a trend that could continue. It is delivering on 400,000 orders for the mainstream Model 3. That dwarfs every other electric — last year, BMW sold 33,000 i3s. GM sold 26,000 Bolts.

Reality check: Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at BNEF, cautions that while fleet obsolescence could happen, it does not mean conventional vehicles vanish. Instead, they may be sold to drivers in another country.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

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