Cats and dogs. Oil and water. Name any cliche about polar opposites and they have probably been used to compare the oil industry and electric vehicles. So, it seems almost impossible that an oil company would make the claim that electric vehicles will be the predominant transportation fuel, but Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) is making that very claim.
Is Shell contemplating going into a new business? Are they playing some kind of Jedi mind trick on us?
Let's take a look at some of the things that Shell is saying and see if it is making a compelling case to invest in Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and the rest of the electric vehicle industry.
Admitting defeat, sort of...
This week Shell released what it calls the New Lens Scenarios, a report on what it sees as the future of energy over the next 50 years. Much of the report reads like you would expect from an oil company, but there were some very interesting tidbits that seem to go against what you would expect from a company like Shell. Probably the most glaring example was this little chart.
No, you don't need to check your glasses prescription: Shell is saying the rise in the use of natural gas, electricity, and hydrogen as transportation fuels will result in oil having a meager 22% of the global transportation market by 2060. There are lots of factors that went into this prediction, such as increased urbanization, more efficient urban planning, and regulations on CO2 emissions. But the people at Shell believed these factors were so powerful that it made the following claim:
By 2070, the passenger road market could be nearly oil-free
It seems like a pretty bold statement, and one that seems to be endorsing the very technology that could threaten the company's profitability. If you sift through the details, though, you notice that Shell lumps electric and hydrogen into the same group. Also, It just happens to be that that both Shell and Total (NYSE:TOT) are currently the only two of the integrated major oil companies that have stated in their annual reports that they are actively developing hydrogen based fueling technology for vehicles. So, on the surface it may sound like a dig at its own industry, but it may just be a pitch for what it is developing down the road.
Stamp of Approval for Tesla?
Even though Shell may have not intended to endorse a company like Tesla or natural gas designer Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT) with this report, seeing estimates that electric and natural gas vehicles could play such a large role in the future of transportation is bound to create some excitement among investors. When you consider total vehicle sales hovered around 80 million last year, the market potential for these companies is immense.
You would never want to buy a company on long-term trends alone, but it does make for a good starting point. If you do want to build an investment thesis for a company like Tesla or Westport using these long-term trends, though, there is one question you need to ask yourself:
Do I have the patience and the temperament to invest in a company based on these long-term trends?
The opportunity for Tesla and Westport are there. Both companies are technological leaders in their respective fields, and their offerings are so attractive that many other companies in the space are lining up to work with them with either joint ventures or manufacturing contracts. But these are growing companies that are bound to hit a bump or two down the road. Right now, Westport isn't expected to generate a net profit before 2016, and even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that the company's stock is bound to swing as "confidence waxes and wanes." Your resolve as an investor will more than likely be tested, so be ready for anything the market may throw in your path.
What a Fool believes
For many of us, the first glance at the chart from Shell might suggest one thing, but it could mean something completely different. Also, keep in mind these are predictions on what someone thinks may happen 50 years out from now. If we all have learned anything, it's that we are excruciatingly bad at predicting the future. In the past three months alone, analysts and pundits have predicted oil to both go under $30 and over $150 by 2015. Then again, perhaps we are good at predicting, because we give ourselves such a wide range to work with.
We like Tesla, but it's not too late to grab another stock The Motley Fool loved in 2013