However, the stock frenzy, fuelled by trading apps such as Robinhood, has not included the big car brands. “Investors love electric mobility, but they avoid traditional OEMs,” Arndt Ellinghorst, head of automotive research at Bernstein, wrote in a recent report. “The equity market believes that ‘old economy auto’ won’t get the job done.”
This, Ellinghorst believes, is about to be disproved. The work needed to develop and produce a car is so difficult that just replacing a combustion-engine drivetrain is not enough to disrupt the market. “The financial pockets and intellectual property needed to produce vehicles with automotive-grade safety and quality are simply very hard to match,” Ellinghorst wrote.
These newly formed companies are now so flush with investor cash that they can afford to buy the help needed, either in a straight transaction or with stock. However, very few are adding much additional value themselves.
The Fisker Ocean electric SUV, for example, will use a platform from Canadian supplier Magna (which will also build the car at its Austrian plant) and Nikola’s electric Badger pick-up will be built by GM using GM’s batteries, if the deal still progresses.
The absence of both a unique selling point and a company’s own intellectual property might soon prompt investors to question the firm’s valuation.
Only two companies can claim a protective ‘moat’. Tesla can boast about its long experience with battery development and its Supercharger network, while Nio now has around 140 battery swap stations in China.
Some have already fallen by the wayside. Kandi, a Chinese EV maker that generated a wave of publicity in 2013 after unveiling vending machines for its share cars, soared on the US stock market in 2014 to a high of almost $20 a share before sinking to its current level of around $5. In the great 2020 stock rush, any hints that your glory days might be behind you can be fatal. Only the promise of a disruptive, all-conquering future will do.
The rise and (maybe) fall of Nikola
Battery-electric and fuel-cell truck developer Nikola was flying below the radar until it listed on the stock market in 2020. Founder Trevor Milton probably wished it was still out of the spotlight. Following Elon Musk, Milton named his company after electric pioneer Nikola Tesla and parlayed his Twitter-driven salesmanship into several lucrative tie-ups with established partners, including Iveco, Bosch and, this year, General Motors, which agreed to build Nikola’s electric Badger pick-up in exchange for a stake.