Electrification may affect the quantities of transmission fluids, greases and other types of lubricants used in automobiles, but the impact of electric vehicles on overall consumption can largely be distilled down to engine oils. Engine oils account for 21% of global automotive lubricant demand, but battery EVs need no engine oil. The size of that impact, therefore, will depend mostly on the future of the entire automobile population, the extent to which EVs replace vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines, the pace at which that shift occurs and the mix between BEVs and plug-in hybrid EVs, since the latter still use engine oil.
Global sales of BEVs and PHEVs are on pace to reach 2.2 million units in 2019, accounting for 2.5% of all light-duty vehicle sales during the year. That would raise the worldwide population of those vehicles to approximately 7.2 million, which would represent 0.5% of the planet’s automobile population of 1.3 billion or 0.6% of the passenger car parc.
The world’s passenger car parc has grown steadily in recent years, from 748 million in 2009 to between 1.2 billion and 1.3 billion in 2019, depending on the source consulted. Most analysts agree that the overall car population will continue to increase, so in assessing the impact on engine oil volumes, the questions are: How much will that number increase and to what extent will it shift from ICE vehicles to EVs?
In 2018, additive company Chevron Oronite commissioned an analysis of the impact that EVs will have on engine oil volumes. For the sake of the exercise, the company assumed a rapid rate of EV purchases – in the upper end of the forecast range of a third-party analyst – assuming that governments will follow through on all policies announced until then to encourage use of vehicles not powered solely by ICEs.
The exercise estimated that the number of BEVs and PHEVs in the world will swell to 875 million by 2040 – an impressive number considering that the population of cars powered solely by ICEs was then estimated at 1.2 billion. But many analysts predict that numbers of ICE cars will also continue to rise, and the analyst who Oronite worked with pegged their number at 1.4 billion by 2040.