The market value of CEO Elon Musk’s electric vehicle (EV) company Tesla Inc. (TSLA) has rebounded by almost 92% and $29 billion from its 52-week low on June 3, 2019, on forecasts of rising profits and market share. Moreover, the outlook for Tesla in China, the world’s largest vehicle market, may be brightening as would-be competitors face obstacles.

To reduce air pollution, China plans to become a world leader in electric vehicles. As a result, dozens of Chinese EV startups have raised over $18 billion, but this may represent a speculative bubble, Bloomberg reports.

Key Takeaways

  • China plans to be a major player in electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Billionaire Chinese tycoons are spending billions in the EV market.
  • However, becoming profitable is an uphill climb.
  • Meanwhile, Tesla has opened its first plant in China.

Significance For Investors

Among the billionaire Chinese business tycoons who spending big money to become big players in the Chinese EV market are Jack Ma of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), Pony Ma of Tencent Holdings Ltd. (TCEHY), Hui Ka Yan of real estate development company China Evergrande Group (EGRNF), and Robin Li of search engine Baidu Inc. (BIDU).

“For the new kids on the block in the EV space, it’s a steep uphill climb,” as Rachel Miu, an analyst with DBS Group Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg. Car sales in China are in a lengthy slump, and the government may cut consumer subsidies for car purchases, spurring a competitive shakeout.

Alibaba is the second-largest investor in Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co., or Xpeng Motors, co-founded by former Alibaba executive He Xiaopeng. Its five-seat G3 SUV was launched in 2018 and has sold 11,940 units so far in 2019, and its new P7 coupe is scheduled to debut in 2020. A factory built in partnership with Haima Automobile Co. can produce 150,000 EVs annually.

However, at least two Xpeng employees, but not the company itself, are accused of intellectual property theft. Tesla has sued one its former engineers in this regard, and a former engineer at Apple Inc. (AAPL) is facing trial.

Tencent is a leading investor in NIO Inc. (NIO), which offers several different models with combined sales of about 26,000 units so far. The company lost $2.8 billion on sales of $1.2 billion in the 12 months through June 2019. The stock is down by 64.5% since its 2018 IPO.

Evergrande has invested over $3.8 billion in EV-related companies, and plans to launch its own Hengchi brand in 2020. Additionally, Evergrande is raising its stake in National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB from 68% to 82% for $3 billion, while also spending 45 billion yuan ($6.3 billion) on EV-related efforts from 2019 to 2021. “We don’t have any talent, technology, experience, or production base in manufacturing cars…Whatever core technology and company we can buy, we will buy,” Hui Kan Yan says.

Baidu owns 13% of WM Motor Technology Co., which introduced an electric SUV in 2018 that has sold over 19,000 units so far. WM invested in a fully-owned factory as a quality control measure. It plans to raise another $1 billion, partly to build a second factory with a capacity of 150,000 units annually. Volvo parent Zhejiang Geely Holding Group has sued WM for 2.1 billion yuan ($290 million), claiming copyright infringement, a charge WM denies.

Tesla has begun production in its new Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai ahead of schedule, CNN reports. Tesla’s initial production goal for this facility, the first auto plant in China that is fully foreign-owned, is 250,000 units per year, rising to 500,000.

Tesla does not disclose unit sales in China, but revenues in China were $669 million in Q3 2019 and $2.138 billion for the first 9 months of 2019 . These figures represent 10.6% and 12.4%, respectively, of total revenues. Given a base price of $35,000 for the Model 3, unit sales in China may have been approximately 19,000 and 60,000, respectively.

Looking Ahead

Tesla has numerous skeptics, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy. He writes in a recent research report, as quoted by Barron’s : “We have to question whether the valuation premium being ascribed to TSLA as a ‘growth’ or ‘technology’ unicorn is truly justified. We would point out that [original equipment manufacturers] in our coverage typically trade at about 3x EV/Ebitda or about 10x P/E through [the auto] cycle, which in isolation implies a theoretical stock price of $28 on our revised 2020 estimates.” That would represent a plunge of 92% from today.

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