Tag: average cost

When did you last think about buying a new car? If not recently, then you may be in for a surprise next time you shop around for car deals. First, you will realise that the range of hybrid cars (i.e. cars that combine conventional combustion and electric engines) has widened significantly. The days when you only had a choice of Toyota Prius and another two or three hybrids are long gone! A quick search on the web returned 10 different models (although five of them belong to the Toyota Prius family), including Chevrolet Malibu, VW Jetta and Ford Fusion. And these are only the cars that are currently available in the UK market.

But the biggest surprise of all may be the number of purely (plug-) electric cars that are available to UK buyers these days. The table below provides a summary of total registrations of light-duty plug-electric cars by model in the UK, between 2010 and June 2016.

Registration of light-duty highway legal plug-electric cars by model in the UK between 2010 and June 2016

Model

Total registered at the end of(1)

Registrations by year between 2010 and December 2013

2Q 2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

Mitsubishi Outlander P-HEV

21 708

16 100

5 273

 

 

 

 

Nissan Leaf

12 837

11 219

6 838

1 812

699

635

 

BMW i3

4 457

3 574

1 534

NA

 

 

 

Renault Zoe

4 339

3 327

1 356

378

 

 

 

Mercedes-Benz C350 e

3 337

628

0

 

 

 

 

Tesla Model S

3 312

2 087

698

 

 

 

 

Volkswagen Golf GTE

2 657

1 359

0

 

 

 

 

Toyota Prius PHV

1 655

1 580

1 324

509

470

 

 

Audi A3 e-tron

1 634

1 218

66

 

 

 

 

Nissan e-NV200

1 487

1 047

399

 

 

 

 

BMW 330e iPerformance

1 479

 

 

 

 

 

 

BMW i8

1 307

1 022

279

 

 

 

 

Vauxhall Ampera

1 267

1 272

1 169

175

455

4

 

Volvo XC90 T8

813

38

 

 

 

 

 

Renault Kangoo Z.E

785

740

663

 

 

 

 

Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

475

395

241

 

 

 

 

Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid

410

337

232

 

 

 

 

Peugeot iOn

405

374

368

26(2)

251

124

 

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

303

162

0

 

 

 

 

Mitsubishi i MiEV

252

251

266

1(2)

107

125

27

Smart electric drive

215

212

205

3(2)

13

 

63

Citroën C-Zero

213

167

202

45(2)

110

46

 

Kia Soul EV

193

145

20

 

 

 

 

BMW 225xe

163

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volkswagen e-Up!

154

142

118

 

 

 

 

Mercedes-Benz S500 PHEV

125

157

14

 

 

 

 

Volkswagen e-Golf

123

114

47

 

 

 

 

Chevrolet Volt

119

122

124

23(2)

67

 

 

Renault Fluence Z.E.

79

70

73

7(2)

67

 

 

Ford Focus Electric

22

19

19

 

 

 

 

Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell

22

23

23

 

 

 

 

Mia electric

15

15

14

 

 

 

 

Volkswagen Passat GTE

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

BYD e6

0

0

0

50(2)

 

 

 

Total registrations

66 374

47 920

21 504

3 586

2 254

1 082

138

Notes: NA: not available. Registrations figures seldom correspond to same sales figure.

(1) Registrations at the end of a period are cumulative figures. (2) CYTD through June 2013.

Source: Wikipedia, “Plug-in electric vehicles in the United Kingdom”

In 2010 there were nly 138 electric vehicles in total registered in the UK. They were indeed an unusual sight at that time – and good luck to you if you had one and you happened to run out of power in the middle of a journey. In 2011 this (small) number increased sevenfold – an increase that was driven mostly by the successful introduction of Nissan Leaf (635 electric Nissans were registered in the UK that year). And since then the number of electric vehicles registered in the country has increased with spectacular speed, at an average rate of 252% per year.

There is clearly strong interest in electric vehicles – an interest likely to increase as their price becomes more competitive. However, they are still very expensive items to buy, especially when compared with their conventional fuel-engine counterparts. What makes electric cars expensive? One thing is the cost of purchasing and maintaining a battery that can deliver a reasonable range. But the cost of batteries is falling, as more and more companies realise the potential of this new market and join the R&D race. As mentioned in a special report that was published recently in the FT:

The cost of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by 75 per cent over the past eight years, measured per kilowatt hour of output. Every time battery production doubles, costs fall by another 5 per cent to 8 per cent, according to analysts at Wood Mackenzie.

There is no doubt that more research will result in more efficient batteries, and will increase the interest in electric cars not only by consumers but also by producers, who already see the opportunity of this new global market. Does this mean that prices will necessarily fall further? You might think so, but then you have to take into consideration the availability and cost of mining further raw materials to make these batteries (such as cobalt, which is one of the materials used in the making of lithium-ion batteries and nearly half of which is currently sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo). This may lead to bottlenecks in the production of new battery units. In which case, the price of batteries (and, by extension, the price of electric cars) may not fall much further until some new innovation happens that changes either the material or its efficiency.

The good news is that a lot of researchers are currently looking into these questions, and innovation will do what it always does: give solutions to problems that previously appeared insurmountable. They had better be fast because, according to estimates by Wood Mackenzie, the number of electric vehicles globally is expected to rise by over 50 times – from 2 million (in 2017) to over 125 million by 2035.

How many economists does it take to charge an electric car? I guess we are going to find out!

Articles

Information

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain the relationship between the price of a battery and the market (equilibrium) price of a plug-in electric vehicle.
  2. List all non-price factors that influence demand for plug-in electric vehicles. Briefly explain each.
  3. Should the government subsidise the development and production of electric car batteries? Explain the advantages and disadvantages of such intervention and take a position.

The recent low price of oil has been partly the result of faltering global demand but mainly the result of increased supply from shale oil deposits. The increased supply of shale oil has not been offset by a reduction in OPEC production. Quite the opposite: OPEC has declared that it will not cut back production even if the price of oil were to fall to $30 per barrel.

We looked at the implications for the global economy in the post, A crude indicator of the economy (Part 2). We also looked at the likely effect on oil prices over the longer term and considered what the long-run supply curve might look like. Here we examine the long-run effect on prices in more detail. In particular, we look at the arguments of two well-known commentators, Jim O’Neill and Anatole Kaletsky, both of whom have articles on the Project Syndicate site. They disagree about what will happen to oil prices and to energy markets more generally in 2015 and beyond.

Jim O’Neill argues that with shale oil production becoming unprofitable at the low prices of late 2014/early 2015, the oil price will rise. He argues that a good indicator of the long-term equilibrium price of oil is the five-year forward price, which is much less subject to speculation and is more reflective of the fundamentals of demand and supply. The five-year forward price is around $80 per barrel – a level to which O’Neill thinks oil prices are heading.

Anatole Kaletsky disagrees. He sees $50 per barrel as a more likely long-term equilibrium price. He argues that new sources of oil have made the oil market much more competitive. The OPEC cartel no longer has the market power it had from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s and from the mid 2000s, when surging Chinese demand temporarily created a global oil shortage and strengthened OPEC’s control of prices. Instead, the current situation is more like the period from 1986 to 2004 when North Sea and Alaskan oil development undermined OPEC’s power and made the oil market much more competitive.

Kaletsky argues that in a competitive market, price will equal the marginal cost of the highest cost producer necessary to balance demand and supply. The highest cost producers in this case are the shale oil producers in the USA. As he says:

Under this competitive logic, the marginal cost of US shale oil would become a ceiling for global oil prices, whereas the costs of relatively remote and marginal conventional oilfields in OPEC and Russia would set a floor. As it happens, estimates of shale-oil production costs are mostly around $50, while marginal conventional oilfields generally break even at around $20. Thus, the trading range in the brave new world of competitive oil should be roughly $20 to $50.

So who is right? Well, we will know in twelve months or more! But, in the meantime, try to use economic analysis to judge the arguments by answering the questions below.

The Price of Oil in 2015 Project Syndicate, Jim O’Neill (7/1/15)
A New Ceiling for Oil Prices Project Syndicate, Anatole Kaletsky (14/1/15)

Questions

  1. For what reasons might the five-year forward price of oil be (a) a good indicator and (b) a poor indicator of the long-term price of oil?
  2. Under O’Neill’s analysis, what would the long-term supply curve of oil look like?
  3. Are shale oil producers price takers? Explain.
  4. Draw a diagram showing the marginal and average cost curves of a swing shale oil producer. Put values on the vertical axis to demonstrate Kaletsky’s arguments. Also put average and marginal revenue on the diagram and show the amount of profit at the maximum-profit point.
  5. Why are shale oil producers likely to have much higher long-run average costs than short-run variable costs? How does this affect Kaletsky’s arguments?
  6. Under Kaletsky’s analysis, what would the long-term supply curve of oil look like?
  7. Criticise Kaletsky’s arguments from O’Neill’s point of view.
  8. Criticise O’Neill’s arguments from Kaletsky’s point of view.
  9. Will OPEC’s policy of not cutting back production help to restore its position of market power?
  10. Why might the fall in the oil price below $50 in early 2015 represent ‘overshooting’? Why does overshooting often occur in volatile markets?

Profits are maximised where marginal cost equals marginal revenue. And in a perfectly competitive market, where price equals marginal revenue, profits are maximised where marginal cost equals price. But what if marginal cost equals zero? Should the competitive profit-maximising firm give the product away? Or is there simply no opportunity for making a profit when there is a high degree of competition?

This is the dilemma considered in the articles linked below. According to Jeremy Rifkin, what we are seeing is the development of technologies that have indeed pushed marginal cost to zero, or close to it, in a large number of sectors of the economy. For example, information can be distributed over the Internet at little or no cost, other than the time of the distributor who is often willing to do this freely in a spirit of sharing. What many people are becoming, says Rifkin, are ‘prosumers’: producing, sharing and consuming.

Over the past decade millions of consumers have become prosumers, producing and sharing music, videos, news, and knowledge at near-zero marginal cost and nearly for free, shrinking revenues in the music, newspaper and book-publishing industries.

What was once confined to a limited number of industries – music, photography, news, publishing and entertainment – is now spreading.

A new economic paradigm – the collaborative commons – has leaped onto the world stage as a powerful challenger to the capitalist market.

A growing legion of prosumers is producing and sharing information, not only knowledge, news and entertainment, but also renewable energy, 3D printed products and online college courses at near-zero marginal cost on the collaborative commons. They are even sharing cars, homes, clothes and tools, entirely bypassing the conventional capitalist market.

So is a collaborative commons a new paradigm that can replace capitalism in a large number of sectors? Are we gradually becoming sharers? And elsewhere, are we becoming swappers?

Articles

Capitalism is making way for the age of free The Guardian, Jeremy Rifkin (31/3/14)
The End of the Capitalist Era, and What Comes Next Huffington Post, Jeremy Rifkin (1/4/14)
Has the Post-Capitalist Economy Finally Arrived? Working Knowledge, James Heskett (2/4/14)

Questions

  1. In what aspects of your life are you a prosumer? Is this type of behaviour typical of what has always gone on in families and society?
  2. If marginal cost is zero, why may average cost be well above zero? Illustrate with a diagram.
  3. Could a monopolist make a profit if marginal cost was zero? Again, illustrate with a diagram.
  4. Is it desirable for there to be temporary monopoly profits for inventors of new products and services?
  5. What is meant by a ‘collaborative commons’? Do you participate in such a commons and, if so, how and why?
  6. Should tweets and Facebook posts be regarded as output?
  7. What is meant by an internet-of-things infrastructure?
  8. What are the incentives for authors to contribute to Wikipedia?
  9. Could marginal cost ever be zero for new physical products?
  10. Think about the things you buy in the supermarket. Could any of these be produced at zero marginal cost?
  11. How can capitalists make profits as ‘aggregators of network services and solutions’?
  12. Provide a critique of Rifkin’s arguments.