How Population Growth Will Affect Political Power Post-2020

It’s still too soon to say who will win the 2020 presidential election, now less than a year away. But plenty can be said about a major political event that won’t happen until after 2020: Congressional reapportionment, the process of divvying up the 435 seats in the House of Representatives based on population growth, which occurs every decade following the U.S. Census.

At least 16 states will gain or lose seats in Congress after the 2020 Census, based on the latest demographic trends. One thing to keep in mind: Since the number of House seats is fixed at 435, even states that are still adding people, such as Calif., are at risk of losing representation in Congress.

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What To Expect From The Economy This Week

Look for the number of jobs added to the economy in November to top 190,000 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its employment report this Friday at https://www.bls.gov/ces/news.htm. That will be good news for the economy, but remember: The number will be inflated by including 42,000 General Motors workers returning from their now-ended strike. If the Friday release is much below 190k, that would indicate a slowing economy compared with previous reports.

It will also be of interest to see if the unemployment rate ticks up to 3.7% or not. A bump up would signal a bit of a slowdown. Finally, what happens to wage growth will provide an indication of the degree of tightness in the labor market. Wage growth has moderated since August, despite low unemployment. Perhaps companies are holding the line while uncertainty lingers over whether or how much the economy will slow down in 2020.

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The Coming Challenges for Disney in the Streaming Wars

Disney’s new online video streaming service is a blockbuster hit with consumers. Just one day after Disney+ launched on Nov. 12, the company announced a staggering 10 million sign-ups. Millions more have signed up since, a clear demonstration of Disney’s iconic brand and marketing muscle. “We’ve never seen a product coming to market with this amount of interest,” says Michael Goodman, the director of digital media at the market research firm Strategy Analytics.

But the streaming wars will be a marathon, not a sprint. Disney has a long way to go, though it has certainly made a splash with its content. The service features movies from Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney classics. It has The Simpsons, original TV shows and much more. Continue reading “The Coming Challenges for Disney in the Streaming Wars”

Electric Vehicles Start to Catch On, But Can They Go Mainstream?

Last night’s reveal of Tesla’s forthcoming electric pickup truck, the so-called Cybertruck, definitely made waves in the automotive world. Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced a prototype and claimed some eye-popping figures relating to the future truck’s acceleration and towing capabilities. And its styling proved to be, umm, polarizing.

If this were simply a one-off for the auto industry, from a manufacturer that has yet to turn a consistent profit and has a history of overpromising on new models, it wouldn’t be much of a story. But the Tesla truck is not a one-off. As I wrote earlier this week, a bevy of electric trucks are in the works, from both established automakers and scrappy startups looking to shake up the industry. And the fact that so many companies are working on the once-unthinkable concept of an electric pickup underscores a broader truth: Electric vehicles in general are slowly gaining traction in the market.

A recent report from the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned electric utilities, notes that in September, plug-in vehicles made up 2.6% of U.S. auto sales. That’s not much, but it’s up from the roughly 1% that EV sales accounted for not long ago. Also, at a time when car sales around the world are slowing, EV sales are accelerating.

New EV models seem to make headlines every day now. This week alone, Ford unveiled a sleek electric SUV that it is calling the Mustang Mach-E. (What do the brand’s long-time fans of the venerable – and gas-powered – Mustang sports car think of that, I wonder?) A few days later, Toyota announced a plug-in version of its RAV-4 hybrid, which still has a gas engine but also can drive almost 40 miles in EV mode. Earlier this year, Porsche showed off a new high-performance EV sport sedan, which should rival the speed and handling prowess of its famous gas-powered models. The list goes on and on.

The downsides that EVs come with – expensive batteries, limited driving range, slow recharging times, not enough public charging stations – haven’t gone away. But those drawbacks are getting less onerous. Battery costs keep falling. The amount of energy they hold keeps growing, which means greater driving range than earlier models offered. High-voltage charging means less waiting to get back on the road. And the network of public charging stations keeps expanding.

All of those improvements mean that EVs are becoming a more realistic option for more consumers, says Bill Visnic, editorial director of mobility media at the Society of Automotive Engineers. Visnic recently wrote about his road trip in an electric Jaguar SUV. He found that a journey that once would have been unthinkable in an EV had become surprisingly doable, though not without hiccups.

Further improvements in battery tech and charging facilities will pave the way for greater EV adoption. But don’t expect electrification to displace internal combustion engines tomorrow. When I asked him for his thoughts about when EVs could become mainstream, Visnic said that the automotive suppliers he talks to tend to regard 2030 as the date by which EVs will be cheap enough and capable enough to truly compete with gas-powered cars.

Between now and then, look for more EVs on the road, but not in huge numbers. Odds are they’ll take hold in suburban neighborhoods before making big inroads in the cities or the rural countryside. Unlike in the cities, suburban homes are more likely to have garages where an owner can install a home charger. And unlike in rural areas, commutes in the suburbs tend to be short enough that a typical EV’s driving range won’t be a limiting factor (assuming the owner remembers to plug in the car to charge overnight).

You may also be seeing more EVs among commercial fleets before 2030. Given their relatively short, repeated routes with lots of stop and go driving, delivery trucks are good candidates for going electric. (Amazon recently announced a big investment in electric delivery trucks from startup Rivian, for example.) Ditto for garbage trucks. These types of vehicles tend to return to a garage or depot every night, allowing the fleet operator to recharge them on a nightly basis. Doing that could save a bundle in energy costs, given the difference between typical electric rates for commercial customers and the cost of diesel fuel.

Congress Mulling Impeachment, Other Pressing Business

The House’s public impeachment hearings, as expected, have dominated Capitol Hill this week. Even the Senate is largely consumed by the inquiry, as the congressional press corps doggedly queries senators – particularly Republicans – about their thoughts on impeachment. And while Senate Republicans either dodged reporters’ questions or responded with boilerplate GOP talking points, they’re monitoring the proceedings with increasing anxiety. That’s because the prospects are increasing by the day that the House will vote to impeach President Trump, sending the whole show to the Senate. This is not a scenario Senate Republicans relish, as they don’t want to be stuck either having to defend a president many aren’t particularly enamored with or – worse – publicly rebuking him and risking Trump’s wrath (and the resulting potential voter backlash).

Still, as things now stand, a Senate trial would result in Trump’s acquittal. Very few, if any, of the chamber’s 53 Republicans would side with Democrats and vote to convict. And remember, conviction requires support of two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators. That’s a threshold that even many mundane measures don’t achieve in today’s hyper-partisan Congress. Continue reading “Congress Mulling Impeachment, Other Pressing Business”

Here Come the Electric Trucks

Once again, electric car maker Tesla is creating a buzz in the automotive world. Its newest sensation: An about-to-be-revealed electric pickup truck.

You read that right: An electric truck. So far, Tesla has stuck to sporty roadsters, sedans and SUVs, but now CEO Elon Musk is promising a battery-powered truck that can go toe to toe with some of the most popular – and profitable – vehicles on the market, such as the perennially best-selling Ford F-class pickups. In a tweet more than a year ago, Musk said the future truck would have all-wheel drive, “crazy torque,” and high-voltage power outlets capable of running heavy duty power tools at a job site. When a follower requested that the truck offer 30,000 pounds of towing capacity, Musk tweeted back: “300,000 pound towing capacity.”

Don’t plan on towing your house with your Tesla just yet. But the Tesla “cybertruck” and other forthcoming electric pickups probably will sport some eye-popping capabilities and features.

A surprising number of automakers are hoping to dive into this highly lucrative segment of the vehicle market. In addition to Tesla, there are also startups Rivian and Workhorse, along with industry stalwart Ford Motor Company. (Ford recently showed off its electric F-150 pickup towing a literal trainload of gas-powered F-150s. It has also invested in Rivian.)

So far, electric vehicles have generally been marketed as eco-friendly, whereas pickup trucks are generally known for hauling heavy loads while guzzling a lot of gasoline or diesel fuel. So why are manufacturers pouring money into the seeming contradiction of an EV truck? For one thing, “the luxury pickup truck market is booming,” says Aaron Bragman, Detroit bureau chief of Cars.com. Whereas trucks were long viewed as the utilitarian, uncomfortable workhorses of the auto world, today they come festooned with all the creature comforts of a luxury car, and the lofty price tags to match. With the Detroit Big Three selling plenty of trucks for upwards of $50,000, it’s not surprising that a company like Tesla would want a piece of the action. And in turn, if Tesla is getting into the truck market, the established manufacturers feel that they can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.

But will buyers actually go for an EV truck? Bragman thinks some will, but probably not the customers who are used to regularly towing or hauling heavy loads long distance for work or play. Rather, he expects the early EV truck adopters to be affluent “lifestyle” buyers who want a do-it-all vehicle, something with the versatility of a family transporter that is rugged enough to go off-road, haul some mountain bikes or camping equipment in the bed and occasionally tow the boat to the lake. Importantly, these buyers tend to be keen on new technology in general, and are likely to prize the “wow” factor of an electric pickup.

In terms of capabilities, what should you expect from the coming crop of electric trucks? A lot. Rivian, the Michigan-based startup, is promising maximum towing capacity of up to 11,000 pounds; the ability to ford water up to three feet deep; a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 3 seconds (besting most sports cars on the market); and, perhaps most crucially, 400 or more miles of driving range between charges. Of course, getting all of that depends on opting for the most expensive version of its R1T truck, which will feature the biggest battery pack.

Only time will tell if there’s room in the truck market for these electric players. But with sales of EVs slowly rising and the availability of charging stations growing, it looks like EV trucks will make some inroads.

Coming up next, I’ll delve into the future of electric vehicles more generally and look at when, or if, they’ll break out of their current niche to become practical, mainstream options for car shoppers.

Will a Slowing Economy Carry Over into 2020?

Evidence so far indicates that fourth quarter GDP growth will be even slower than the third quarter’s 1.9% gain.

While consumers are likely to spend enough to make it a pretty good holiday sales season for retailers, businesses remain cautious, cutting back their spending on equipment and adding to inventories at a reduced pace. The labor strike at General Motors, though now resolved, forced production cutbacks in both September and October. Manufacturing activity in general is being dragged down by poor prospects for the global economy. Continue reading “Will a Slowing Economy Carry Over into 2020?”

The Impeachment Drama Begins

It’s been a strange, almost surreal week on Capitol Hill. Things started out slow – a holiday on Monday, then Tuesday was a “fly-in” day with an extremely light schedule. But all that changed Wednesday, when the first public impeachment hearing in two decades commenced (with more to follow over the next week or so). All signs point to the chamber voting to impeach President Trump sometime either just before or after Thanksgiving (probably before), which then would require a trial in the Senate.

It’s not a lock that the House will impeach. Why? Because there are about 30 moderate House Democrats from districts that Trump won in 2016. If all or most of them got cold feet and voted against impeachment, the vote could fail. Still, House Democrats seem unified. So, look for the House to impeach the president, sending the matter to the Senate. Continue reading “The Impeachment Drama Begins”

What’s Next for Drone Delivery

Imagine hankering for a pint of ice cream from your favorite ice cream shop five miles away. But this time, instead of hopping in your car, you tap the “drone delivery” option on a mobile app. About 10 minutes later, the mint chocolate chip is lowered via a tether from a drone hovering above your backyard.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction. But drone companies have plans to make it happen. Continue reading “What’s Next for Drone Delivery”

Attacks on Saudi Oil Industry Rock Crude Prices

It’s too early to say anything for sure about this weekend’s attacks on key oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. But here are a few preliminary notes to help you make sense of the headlines and what they mean for energy prices. Continue reading “Attacks on Saudi Oil Industry Rock Crude Prices”