Warren Buffett, the closely watched investor and mega-billionaire, expects that 20 years from now, all cars will run on electricity. At least, that’s what he told Rice University business students at his Omaha headquarters this month when asked for his thoughts on peak oil and replacements for “carbon fuels,” the Houston Chronicle reports (hat tip Gasgoo and GuruFocus).
Such a rapid transition to electric vehicles could work out well for BYD, the China-based developer of electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries in which Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm holds a 10 percent stake. But some other forecasts suggest we’re more likely to see a mix of fuels — including gasoline and electricity — powering vehicles for some time to come, rather than a wholesale switch to plug-ins by 2030.
The analysts at Lux Research certainly see hurdles ahead for this giddy growth prediction. Battery prices, says Lux, have to come way, way down for plug-in vehicles to go truly mass, and that will take time. In a report released last month, Lux forecast that even if oil costs $200 a barrel in 2020, just 4 percent of vehicles sold globally will be all-electric or plug-in hybrid because of the high costs of the battery technology. According to Lux, plug-in hybrids could sell 3 million units per year by 2020 if the price of oil reaches those heights, while hybrids can be expected to sell that many by 2020 regardless of oil prices.
Buffett, however, isn’t alone in his high hopes for the adoption of electric vehicles. Google’s “Clean Power by 2030″ proposal, released last fall, called for almost all of new car sales in the U.S. by 2030 to be plug-ins — although the search giant said such a transition, in combination with other components of a plan to kick the U.S. fossil fuel habit, would cost $4.4 trillion (in undiscounted 2008 dollars). Meanwhile, research firm Frost & Sullivan predicted earlier this year that in China, hybrid cars will be truly mass-market by 2011 or 2012, with the country’s fleet beginning a minimum 10-year transition to plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles as early as 2010.
Li Lu, investor and adviser for Buffett-backed BYD Auto, said during a roundtable discussion at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, “We’ve been growing 100 percent for the last five to six years, and I have no reason to believe we will stop.” If nothing else, aggressive statements from Buffett, one of the world’s highest-profile investors, could help build momentum for the EV market and BYD’s growth.