By Arjen Bongard, Automotive News Europe
Munich, Germany - The worst thing the automotive industry can do is count on cheaper gasoline following the recent slide in oil prices.
Yes, it's been nice to see prices at the pump come down after benchmark crude oil fell from highs of $150 a barrel in July to today's level of around $60.
The drop reflected a global economic slowdown and worries about the global financial crisis. Both are reducing demand for oil. But make no mistake: this is a temporary phenomenon.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency warned earlier this month that oil prices will jump above $100 a barrel as soon as the world economy starts to improve again. By 2030, the IEA predicts, a barrel of oil will cost more than $200.
"The gap now evident between what is currently being built and what will be needed to keep pace with demand is set to widen sharply after 2010," the IEA said in its 2009 World Energy Outlook.
What's behind the forecast? Simple supply and demand expectations. Despite the current slowdown, economic growth in big developing countries such as China and India will continue. Russia is still expected to grow, as will Brazil. The Western world will recover. And demand for energy will increase across the board.
At the same time, exploration and development of new oil and gas resources will not keep pace with the growth. And alternative energy sources, though growing rapidly, won't be able to make up for the growing shortfall.
That means the auto industry needs to stay the course and even step up the pace with its development of downsized engines, hybrids, full-electric vehicles and weight-reducing technologies.
The focus with these efforts has been on lowering CO2 emissions and helping the environment. That's important, but it's only one consideration.
Arguably more important will be to make sure that, when gasoline prices rise again, consumers will have access to more fuel-efficient cars, so they will still be able to afford to drive.
If they aren't, the industry will have a problem that will dwarf today's challenges.
You may e-mail Arjen Bongard at [email protected]