Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where are Chinese Cars in their Oil Consumption?

The above graph shows their oil consumption from 2000 to the most recent data. I have two sources - the annual data in the BP spreadsheet, and the recent quarterly data from the EIA.  The two should not be assumed to be measuring the exact same thing.  Overall, the CAGR from 2000 to 2008 is 6.7%, much lower than the growth in the car fleet.  What gives?

According to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs (with hat tip to commenter Sparaxis at TOD), in 2007, the breakdown of Chinese oil usage was as follows:

As you can see, they say only a tiny fraction of Chinese oil consumption was going in car usage - around 350kbd if I'm reading their chart right.  If true, that would certainly explain why the rapid growth in the car fleet doesn't have too much effect on the oil usage yet.

Given that, in 2007, the official size of the private car fleet was 23 million vehicles, the average Chinese car was using 5.5 barrels of oil per year.  The ballpark number for the US would be 250 million cars using 10 million barrels of oil per day, giving about 15 barrels/year/car.

So a Chinese car uses about one third of the oil of an American car if we believe these various stats.  This doesn't sound crazy.  I haven't yet found a basis for estimating the average fuel economy of the deployed Chinese fleet, but it could easily be 50-80% higher than the US fleet.  Multiply by a similar factor for the average Chinese car being driven less due to denser cities and lower incomes, and you could get to a factor of three.

If that figure stayed flat, then around 2017 when the Chinese car fleet reached US proportions, it would still consume much less oil - around 3.5mbd.  However, as Chinese incomes continue to increase, and as cars increasingly move into the rural areas, the barrels/year is likely to get worse, unless restrained by high oil prices.

I will try to put this together into an uncertainty interval in future Chinese demand in a post coming shortly.


Elvis said...


Don't forget that the oil consumption numbers could be wrong. Data quality for things like imports into China is often very poor.

Nick G said...

On the other hand, fuel efficiency in China is very likely to rise, with plug-ins like BYD's. That may counter-balance rising Vehicle Miles Traveled.

porsena said...

Nick, the BYD electric is reported to be selling poorly. It's expensive compared to its conventional bretheren - I forget the premium but it must be enough to discourage sales.

Sales of electric cars in the USA will face a similar challenge. The current cost of a lithium-ion battery is $1,000-1,200 per kWh capacity, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (site registration required) reported in Automotive News. That’s at least $16,000 for a Volt’s battery, and it implies the 16.5 kWh battery in this year's trial release of 1,000 electric smart cars costs about the same as an entire smart Passion cabriolet with gasoline engine. Xavier Mosquet, Boston Consulting’s global automotive practice leader, thinks the high cost of batteries will prevent EV’s from penetrating the mainstream market for at least the next few years.

Nick G said...


Could you point me to good information about the BYD electric? and plug-in? I haven't seen much info. I would note that I was talking about the plug-in in my note. Now, a few thoughts.

1st, it's my understanding that Chinese fuel efficiency standards are roughly 50% higher than US (in terms of liters/km).

2nd, in China electric bikes outsell light vehicles (cars, SUV's, etc) by more than 2:1. That says something about the potential for electric drive trains as well as the alternatives to light vehicles.

3rd, I don't find the BCG study credible. They acknowledge that 1st-generation small-format consumer lithium-ion batteries sell for roughly $350/KWH. I don't see any good reasons for 2nd generation li-ion to sell for more - they'll have large format, cheaper materials, more automation and larger production volumes - all of these dictate lower costs. CPI/LG, the very large and credible provider of the Volt's matteries, says that the battery pack costs $10K - I see no reason not to believe them.

Nick G said...

oops - I meant to say "in terms of km/liters), and

"CPI/LG, the very large and credible provider of the Volt's batteries, says that the battery pack costs $8K".

Economy Lessons Blog said...

And the Chinese oil demand keeps growing and growing, for the seventh month, a double digit number.

I posted about it here Feel free to comment