World Economy

$25 oil is coming, and a new world order along with it, think tanks says

$25 oil, self-driving cars will be the norm in 2030: Think tank
$25 oil, self-driving cars will be the norm in 2030: Think tank

The world as we know it, will be no longer. The balance of power on a global scale will shift. All in the next decade.

Sounds dramatic right? But independent think tank RethinkX says it's be true because of rapid advances in technology, and specifically the advent of self-drive or autonomous cars.

First and foremost, RethinkX co-founder and Stanford University economist and professor Tony Seba told CNBC's "Street Signs" that the rise of self-driving cars will see oil demand plummet, the price of that commodity drop to $25 a barrel, and oil producers left without the political or financial capital they have today.

FCA delivering 100 uniquely-built Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo (formerly the Google self-driving car project) for their self-driving test fleet.
Source: FCA

"Oil demand will peak 2021-2020 and will go down by 100 million barrels, and will go down to 70 million barrels within 10 years. And essentially what that means is that the new equilibrium price in the oil markets is going to be $25. So if you produce oil and you can't compete at $25, essentially you are holding stranded assets," Seba said.

"At $25 that means deep-water, sands and shale oil fields, most of them are going to be stranded. And also, all the refineries and the pipelines associated with these expensive oil are going to be also stranded. And that is going to reshape, of course, worldwide oil geopolitics and so on."

It's a big call, but if you look at what's behind Seba's premise, it comes down to money.

He said the world will not stop driving altogether, people will just switch to self-driving electric vehicles, which will become a much larger part of the sharing economy. And these electric vehicles are going to cost less to both buy and run.

"The day that autonomous vehicles are approved, the combination of ride hailing, electric and autonomous means that it's going to be 10 times cheaper, up to 10 times cheaper, to use a robo-taxi, a transport as a service car, than it is to own a car," he said.

Investment case

Interestingly enough, if you believe this thesis, you may want to look at selling out of any exposure you have to car parks, according to Seba: "What is going to happen is that 80 percent, or maybe more, of parking spaces are going to be vacant because we are going to have 80 percent fewer cars on the road."

And given that $25 forecast for oil, you certainly want to look at selling oil, and expensive oil producers. Under that scenario, another sell could be automakers that are slow to adapt since there will be no more petrol or diesel cars, buses and trucks sold anywhere in the world within 8 years. Which also means no more car dealers by 2024.

Insurers could then well be a sell too: The cost of car insurance will drop dramatically when human error is taken out of the equation.

But, according to Seba, it is time to look at buying into anything that will help to produce and manufacture the next generation of cars, which are "computers on wheels."

He said to look at companies that make the operating system, the computer platform, the batteries, mapping software and those that adapt to the new environment.

"Imagine a Starbucks on wheels. Essentially transportation is going to be so cheap that it's going to essentially be cheaper for Starbucks to run around and take me to work, which is, you know, 60 kilometers away, and give that transportation for free in exchange for me to buy coffee in that hour of commute."

There is some good news for economic growth too. The savings households make on cars, will drive higher consumer spending in the U.S., which in turn will drive business and job growth. Seba predicted that productivity gains will boost GDP by an additional $1 trillion.

But on the other hand, outstanding auto loan debt in the U.S. stands at more than $1 trillion. And there are those who see the U.S. subprime-auto market as a big problem already.

Josh Jalinski, president of Jalinski Advisory Group told CNBC's "Street Signs" that it's a huge risk. "We have a potential auto subprime crisis looming in America, the likes we haven't seen since 2008. … I see the car subprime loan debacle as something that could be the catalyst of upending the Trump train."

Oil and cars

Seba is not alone in his predictions, although others believe the shift will take longer and will be less dramatic.

China and India are accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. China wants to get electric, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell cars to account for 20 percent of all auto sales by 2025, while India aims to electrify all vehicles in the country by 2032.

But as always with any thesis, there are those who argue for the other side. Oil majors are the obvious ones, with recent reports from both ExxonMobil and BP's suggesting electric cars will comprise less than 10 percent of the global car fleet by 2035.

As for the auto industry itself, Ford announced earlier this month that James Hackett, who had been heading its self-driving subsidiary, would become its new CEO. That moves speaks for itself.

Toyota Research Institute ramped up its investment, teaming up with MIT Media Lab and five other companies to explore blockchain technology for the development of driverless cars.

And of course, there is the market interest in Tesla. The Elon Musk-backed electric automaker now has a bigger market cap than both Ford and GM.

Trip Chowdhry, managing director and senior analyst at Global Equities Research, pointed out Tesla isn't an auto company as many people believe.

"It is a cloud computing company, it's a machine and an artificial intelligence company, it is an app company, it is an energy company, and just an automobile is nothing more than a laptop on four wheels."

One point that is agreed is that the auto industry will look vastly different in the future. The questions are how long will that change take, and who is going to successfully adapt.

Correction: This article has been changed to more accurately reflect Tony Seba's comments.