More Electric Car Manufacturers Go Bankrupt As Reality Hits

Electric car (Image: YouTube screen grab)

By David Blackmon

At the start of each year, I write a piece in which I make a set of predictions about what will happen in the energy space during the coming 12 months. One prediction I made in this year’s story focused on the likelihood of a big fallout in America’s electric vehicle manufacturing industry.

Citing Fisker and Rivian as examples, I questioned whether any of the pure-play electric vehicle companies based in the United States had the ability to compete with Tesla in that market.

I took some heat from viewers that same week after I predicted on a podcast that every one of the U.S. pure-play EV makers besides Tesla would be either in bankruptcy or teetering on the brink by the end of 2024. As things are turning out, my only regret there is that I did not predict they would all be in that state by the middle of 2024 instead of the end of the year.

This week, Fisker filed for bankruptcy, becoming the latest in a series of casualties in the growing falling-out in the EV sector. As The New York Times noted in its story on the matter, Fisker was one of a number of pure-play EV makers who were able to raise billions in startup funds from investors who got caught up in the EV frenzy during 2020 and 2021.

Several of those firms, like ProterraArrival, and Lordstown Motors already preceded Fisker down the bankruptcy path. Others, like Rivian, are right on the verge of taking the same plunge.

Lucid makes just one model, a luxury sedan, and is struggling to find buyers. It boasted about setting a new delivery “record” in the first quarter of this year, but a closer search reveals that was for only 1,967 units. The carmaker followed that announcement with another in May that it would lay off 400 employees in an apparent effort to conserve cash.

Oof.

EV truck maker Nikola, meanwhile, saw its stock price hit a record low this week amid ongoing softening in the US EV market. At the close of June 20 trading, Nikola’s price had dropped to just 33 cents per share. The stock collapse comes months after the company had delivered its first hydrogen fuel cell heavy truck during Q1, but that amounted to sales of just 42 units.

These and other pure-play EV makers are not in any way serious competition for Tesla.

Note also that Tesla is having major struggles of its own as the pace of EV adoption growth slows to a snail’s pace. The company laid off 10% of its workforce in May amid the ongoing slowing of the EV market. Tesla’s rollout of its radically designed Cybertruck has been plagued by recalls, technical issues and customer complaints, and the company’s overall Q1 2024 sales numbers fell dramatically from both Q4’s numbers and year-over-year.

But its decade-long head start on the competition, vertical integration of supply chains and diversification into other ventures give Tesla advantages these other pure-play EV companies do not and cannot enjoy. It remains uniquely situated among its peer group to survive the market contraction.

Traditional automakers like Ford and GM have been able to placate investors about their stunning losses in EV ventures (Ford somehow managed to lose $132,000 per unit sold in Q1 2024) by offsetting them against major profits from their traditional gas and diesel-powered car divisions. But even those companies have invoked an array of strategic shifts over the past six months in which they have delayed or cancelled planned new investments in their EV dreams.

What we are seeing here is a rapid shifting back to reality in the US auto industry. EVs always have been, are today, and will remain a niche product that can fill specific needs for a limited segment of our population, mainly the wealthy. The reason why the traditional, gas-and-diesel-powered auto segments at companies like Ford and GM remain wildly profitable is because that is where the real auto market remains.

No amount of Soviet-style central planning, industrial policy and command-and-control edicts and regulations coming down from Washington, D.C., are going to change that reality.

David Blackmon is an energy writer and consultant based in Texas. He spent 40 years in the oil and gas business, where he specialized in public policy and communications.

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