This year looks set to be the “tipping point” for electric cars, Arnoud Balhuizen, chief commercial officer at BHP (BLT.L), said on Tuesday, adding that the impact for raw materials producers would be felt first in the metals markets and only later in oil.
“In September 2016 we published a blog and we set the question – could 2017 be the year of the electric vehicle revolution?” he said in an interview.
“Yes, 2017 is the revolution year we have been speaking about. And copper is the metal of the future.”
Electric cars add up to roughly 1 million, out of a global fleet of closer to 1.1 billion – but BHP forecasts that could rise to 140 million vehicles by 2035.
Balhuizen said he expected the impact of that change would be felt first in copper, where supply – with no new major discoveries in the last 20 years – will struggle to match increased demand.
The market, he said, may have underestimated the impact on copper demand of what will be a dramatic change, given fully electric vehicles require four times as much copper as cars that run on combustion engines.
BHP, Balhuizen said, was well-placed, with assets like Escondida and Spence in Chile, and Olympic Dam in Australia.
For oil, though, the impact of the electric car boom may take longer to be felt. Balhuizen said over the next 10 to 15 years, BHP expects improvements in the internal combustion engine to be a more significant drag on oil demand.
China’s efforts to build a new Silk Road are another major factor influencing demand in the near term, and BHP estimates the impact on steel alone at 150 million tonnes of new demand, Balhuizen said.