Not so very long ago, Ohio-based Lordstown Motors Corp. was one of the darlings of an emerging crop of electric vehicle (EV) makers who promised to shake up the dusty, moribund, hidebound, sclerotic legacy carmakers.
Lordstown, with an emphasis on pickups and commercial vehicles, had the look of a promising new entry. Perhaps not the next Tesla, but a company of interest.
Meanwhile, in some circles, old warhorses like Ford Motor, General Motors and Toyota have long been dismissed as also-rans chasing Tesla and stumbling. And even seemingly more progressive car companies such as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW – German-based, where the Green party may very well gain control of the national government this fall – have often been seen as relics of an industry with a death-grip on the internal combustion engine (ICE).
But not so fast.
The very day after RBC Dominion Securities analyst Joseph Spak generously gave Lordstown an “underperform” recommendation, Lordstown CEO Steve Burns dropped a bomb on investors and potential customers. He delivered what’s called a going-concern notice.
Lordstown is broke. Without a huge cash infusion, Lordstown won’t be able to ramp up production of its Endurance electric trucks. What happened between this week and last month, when Burns told investors that his company had the money to slowly ramp up September production of its Endurance electric trucks?
RBC’s Spak says Lordstown is facing aggressive competition. In an understatement of colossal proportions, he cautioned that Lordstown deliveries would likely fall “significantly” below management guidance.
The big problem, suggested Sak, is that Lordstown has a flawed business plan. Lordstown planned to compete in the fleet pickup market, where fat profits are made by all the old carmakers, from Ford to Daimler. Its old GM plant gave Lordstown an edge few other EV start-ups enjoy. Well, if Lordstown does survive, a white night investor or investors will need to come to the rescue.
Why would any smart investor throw money at something like Lordstown? It’s broke and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has put it under the microscope.
Meanwhile, Ford has already signalled that it’s going to defend its pickup turf. The F-150 Lighting has arrived to glowing reviews. Tens of thousands have already put a deposit on the Lightning.
What’s more, the 2021 Mustang Mach-E electric crossover is also an early hit. In fact, Bloomberg reports that Ford has produced 27,816 Mach-Es so far, compared to 26,089 gasoline-powered Mustangs. Ford will start selling an E-Transit electric van later this year and by 2025, plans to spend US$29 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles – US$22 billion on EVs alone.
Remember, Lordstown has said it doesn’t have enough money to keep the lights on, while Ford has billions to throw at Endurance-killers. It’s the same story at GM, where the plan is to launch 30 EVs globally by 2025, at a cost of some US$27 billion.
Toyota? Nikkei Asia reports that Toyota Motor plans to launch 15 electric vehicle models by 2025, up from four fully electric vehicles now. In fact, Nikkei Asia notes that seven of the EV models will be launched under a new brand, Toyota bZ. In four years or less, Toyota plans to offer 70 hybrids and full EVs.
You’ll find similar stories unfolding at Nissan Motor (Ariya and a rejuvenated LEAF), Honda (in its partnership with GM), VW (massive investments in EV and infrastructure to charge them), Daimler (check out Mercedes’ EQ lineup), BMW (everything from electric Minis to racy BMWs), Tata’s Jaguar Land Rover and more. I haven’t even touched on China’s big EV makers, from BYD to Geely.
Then there’s Tesla, the most valuable car company in the world, but surely one under great competitive pressures. I have always been skeptical about Tesla’s chances of surviving as a standalone company, and have been wrong so far. But in the face of an onslaught from car companies around the world, many with direct or indirect government support and all with billions to spend, what will become of Tesla? It’s a fair question.
In all this, is there room for other BEV start-ups to survive and thrive?
Here’s I’m intrigued by Fisker Inc., which has been bobbing and weaving its way through the EV fight for, oh, a decade. Somehow Fisker has held on long enough to refine a business plan that doesn’t rely on vertical integration – on owning its own factories and doing all the grunt work of automaking, bottom to top.
As RBC’s Spak notes in his coverage launch of Fisker, The Asset-Light Auto Co., this little EV survivor has an “attractive risk/reward profile.” If Fisker pulls off the near-impossible, outlined in its plans, Spak argues that investors might enjoy “significant” value creation – fat profits and a soaring share price.
Fisker’s plan, notes Spak, is to be the Apple of EVs: Apple “designs its products, but has contract manufacturers assemble/produce them. Fisker has thus far partnered with Magna and Foxconn, which aside from saving money has also led to a faster time to market (first product Ocean SUV is slated for 4Q22 or the end of next year).”
Fisker’s take is that utilizing a battery platform from Canada’s Magna, also an established contract manufacturer, allows the Fisker brand to bring products to market quickly and at lower cost. The key assumption is that buyers won’t be able to tell one BEV platform from another; they only really notice design, software and customer support.
“The underpinnings of a BEV may be even less differentiated than ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles, so saving capital on building out a platform and production facility, Fisker can spend resources to differentiate the customer experience (design, software, UX and ownership)”
This is Apple to a T. Apple designs and markets phones and tablets, but contract manufacturers such as Foxconn to the grunt work of building the actual products. Both parties get rich.
Lordstown looks destined to become a footnote in automotive history. That’s a warning for other EV start-ups who think they can keep mining capital markets for more money. This has so far worked for Tesla, though the jury remains out as Tesla continues to require more funding to grow.
However, that old model won’t fly with most other EV start-ups – certainly not in the face of legacy carmakers who have the billions required to design, build and deliver Mach-Es and Lightings.
Fisker may be showing us another way and has become an EV maker to watch.