EV makers poised for a shakeout — just like the early days of auto industry

Source: By Julian Mark, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2023

Analysts say financial results from Rivian, Fisker, Lucid and others suggest some companies will emerge as clear winners, while others will fade away

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at the Lucid Motors plant in Casa Grande in September 2021. (Caitlin O’hara/Reuters)

Only months after electric vehicle maker Lucid went public in the summer of 2021, the company’s value shot up to nearly $91 billion. Fisker, another EV start-up, also saw its valuation spike — to roughly $8 billion — after its IPO in November 2020. Electric truck maker Rivian, meanwhile, hit $127 billion after going public in fall 2021.

But none has managed to sustain those swells, each watching their market values deflate 75 percent or more as of Wednesday. This week, each reported large losses and dwindling cash supplies.

It should not be surprising these companies are burning through cash and piling up losses, industry observers note. Though start-ups rarely turn a profit in their early days, such automakers contend with unique costs and manufacturing challenges not seen in other industries like, for example, software. Tesla reported its first full-year profit in 2020 — nearly two decades after it was founded.

Some analysts say the recent round of earnings by EV companies suggest the industry is primed for an overhaul, in which some companies will emerge as clear winners and others fade away — much like the earliest days of the automotive industry in the early 20th century. At that time, entrepreneurs rushed into car-making across the country, said Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “And ultimately there was a shakeout of just a few players and that just happened to be in Michigan,” she said, referring to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

“It’s deja vu,” Krebs added, referring to the current rush of entrants in the EV market. “There will be a shakeout.”

Electric vehicle makers are facing challenges, including increasingly limited opportunities for funding due to higher interest rates, as well as competition from legacy automakers, which can subsidize their EV business losses with revenue from gas-powered vehicle sales, analysts said. Ford, for example, said in March that its EV business would take a $3 billion loss, but the company would still turn an overall profit of as much as $11 billion.

“New players always underestimate how much it cost to start a car company,” Krebs said. “There surely will be failures because so many have started up and the times have drastically changed.”

Venkatesh Prasad, senior vice president for research at the Center for Automotive Research, said EV start-ups are seeing opportunities for outside capital dwindle as interest rates rise — and they also face stiff competition from established automakers that can scale their products faster to meet demand. “And so with the start-ups, you have both risk and uncertainty happening at the same time,” he said.

On Monday, Lucid reported a more than $779 million loss in the first three months of 2023, compared with the more than $81 million loss it reported the same quarter last year. Its cash reserves dropped to $900 million, compared with the more than $1.7 billion reported at the end of 2022. The company also said that it planned to produce more than 10,000 vehicles — on the lower end of its previous guidance.

A day later, Fisker reported a $120 million loss for the first three months of 2023 and said it burned through $84 million in cash. The company cut this year’s production target to between 32,000 and 36,000, down from the 42,400 it previously forecast.

On Tuesday, Rivian reported losses of $1.3 billion for the first three months of this year. It is more liquid than its rivals, ending the quarter with about $11.2 billion in cash and equivalents.

Lordstown Motors, which builds an electric truck, said this month that it would pause production on its vehicles, noting in a filing that it may go bankrupt if it cannot find additional funding. Nikola, an electric truck maker, said it would also pause production after reported widening losses.

Dan Ives, a Wedbush analyst who covers the EV market, says it’s been an uphill battle for EV start-ups to sell and produce vehicles to keep up with demand.

“With capital significantly more expensive today [and] an interest rate environment moving up, we’re seeing more EV players squeezed — specially as Tesla, GM, Ford and other stalwarts aggressively go after electric vehicles and dive into the deep end of the pool,” Ives said.

In April, Tesla reported a profit of more than $2.5 billion in the first three months of this year, down 24 percent from the same period last year. Since its CEO, ElonMusk, took over Twitter in October, some investors have worried about the automaker’s ability to remain dominant, and competitors have sought to gain a foothold in the market as Musk focuses on trying to make his social media company successful.

Ives said clear winners will emerge besides Tesla, and despite the stumbles, Rivian and Lucid are still in a position for success. Rivian has the best potential to be a “mini Tesla-like ecosystem,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wood to chop to get there,” Ives added. And Wall Street is “tired of dog-eat-their-homework excuse[s] for missing production.”