Electric vehicle startups could collapse as quickly as they emerged

Even Rivian, considered by many automotive experts to be the most promising western EV startup, is not immune to the boom and bust cycle that plays out in the EV market. But experts say it’s typical of emerging industries.

Rivian shares have fallen 75% since their initial public offering last year. In November 2021, Rivian cost more than Ford and GM, and now costs about half as much. Its appeal as a counterweight to Tesla, respected investors, and a 12-year production ramp-up weren’t enough to protect its stock from the downturn that has hit almost every electric car company.
In 2021 Rivian produced 1015 cars that don’t match it 1200 goal. Its pace of production has more than doubled from last year—2,553 vehicles were produced in the first three months of the year—but not enough to be profitable and justify the high valuation. The company is already planning to build a second plant in Georgia in addition to its plant in Illinois, where the existing facility will produce 200,000 vehicles a year. Rivian, like many automakers, also raised prices amid inflation and a shortage of supply, but apologized and canceled the price increase on existing pre-orders after backlash from customers.
The problems have been even worse for other electric car companies that have gone public in recent years. Share prices of Faraday Future, Lordstown Motors and Electric Last Mile Solutions have all fallen over 70% since they went public via SPAC and have all experienced SEC investigations.
SPACs, which have been popular with electric vehicle companies, allow companies without significant revenue or proven products to go public without as much scrutiny as a traditional initial public offering.

A sharp drop in the price of electric vehicles can be typical of booms and busts. New industries that excite investors with the opportunity to fly a financial rocket into the wealth stratosphere, but some companies that go public might not be otherwise in less enthusiastic times. The dot-com crash of 2000 is an oft-cited example.

While no new public electric vehicle company has been convicted of fraud so far, fraud is indeed typical of stock market bubbles, according to William Quinn, a teacher at the Royal School of Management in the UK who studies stock market bubbles. He pointed to the British bicycle bubble of 1890, when hundreds of new bicycle companies were listed on the stock market at an overvaluation. Almost all went bankrupt within a few years.

David Kirsch, a business professor at the University of Maryland and co-author of Bubbles and Crashes, said he expects some electric vehicle startups to survive but many to fail. “Stories are being revealed,” Kirsch told CNN Business.

The fortunes of two electric car companies, Nikola and Lordstown Motors, took a turn for the worse in 2020 and 2021, respectively, following critical reports of misleading and inappropriate behavior by investment firm Hindenburg Research.

U.S. electric car companies aren’t the only ones to see their valuations drop. Chinese electric vehicle startups have also been hit. Nio shares are down 49% this year, X-Peng is down 52%, BYD is down 17%. Even the world’s most valuable automaker, Tesla, has not been left out; this year, its stocks have decreased by 27%.

Kirsch sees the falling stock prices of companies that want to compete with Tesla as evidence of how difficult it is to turn startups that inspire investors with their stories into businesses that prove themselves on paper with revenue and profits.

“Some of these companies are at risk to some degree,” Kirsch said. “There’s a saying, when the tide goes out, you see who isn’t wearing a bathing suit.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.