EVs Are The New Muscle Car, And This Chinese Automaker Is Flexing Hard

EVs Are The New Muscle Car, And This Chinese Automaker Is Flexing Hard

6 months ago5 mins

  • At this year’s glitzy auto show in Munich, the big spotlight was an unexpected star: Chinese all-electric carmaker BYD

  • BYD is certainly worthy of the attention: Chinese EVs are expected to make massive market share gains in the European market, helped by the big price advantages they have over their US and European rivals.

  • The EV theme is massive, and it’s here for the long haul. So a top tip overall is to keep an eye on the whole EV ecosystem: it’s often the best way to find the diamonds in the rough

At this year’s glitzy auto show in Munich, the big spotlight was an unexpected star: Chinese all-electric carmaker BYD

BYD is certainly worthy of the attention: Chinese EVs are expected to make massive market share gains in the European market, helped by the big price advantages they have over their US and European rivals.

The EV theme is massive, and it’s here for the long haul. So a top tip overall is to keep an eye on the whole EV ecosystem: it’s often the best way to find the diamonds in the rough

Mentioned in story

It wasn’t Porsche or Tesla or BMW that got everyone talking at the huge auto show in Munich this month: it was BYD. And the fast-growing Chinese electric carmaker didn’t just steal the limelight: it had its American and German competition shaking in their boots. That’s because BYD and other Chinese manufacturers are now setting global standards for EVs, and laying down a challenge for automakers across Europe, Asia, and the US.

So, with the industry, well, shifting gears, let’s take a look at where the opportunities might be…

What makes BYD such a showstopper?

A big part of the answer here is price. The all-electric brand, which recently overtook Volkswagen as the most-sold vehicle in China, has consumers giving the side-eye to the premium prices that typically come with EV models. And that’s forcing some steep sticker-price cuts over at Tesla.

Analysts at Swiss bank UBS recently published a “tear-down” research report of BYD’s midsize sedan – basically breaking the car apart to have a closer look at its components and their costs. They calculated that the Seal has a 35% manufacturing price advantage (think: the cost to make it) over European EVs and a 25% cost advantage when you factor in all the shipping and import tax expenses. The Seal had a 15% price advantage versus Tesla’s similar-looking Model 3, they found.

And it’s not hard to figure out why BYD is winning on price: 75% of the Seal’s components, including the battery, are made in-house, according to the tear-down. That’s about double the industry average. Prioritizing in-house parts suppliers – or what’s called “vertical integration” – isn’t the usual approach for this industry, which tends to rely on a vast, complex supply chain with prices that can fluctuate for all manner of reasons. BYD’s broken that mold: it’s even buying auto transport ships to help control shipping costs.

Mind you, it’s not completely insular: BYD does rely on other parts from external suppliers, with around 10% coming from outside China (including Qualcomm chips). BYD has 600,000 employees, five times larger than Tesla’s, including 90,000 engineers which helps give it a technological edge.

Now, BYD is hardly a new kid on the block: it’s got a $94 billion market cap, and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is still in for 8.8% of the company. (Buffett’s conglomerate company bought a massive stake in 2008, but has been shrinking its holding, from a peak of around 19%.)

So, are China’s automakers set for world EV domination, then?

Well, that certainly was the buzz last week at the I.A.A. Mobility auto show in Munich. And, look, China itself is by far the biggest market for EVs, accounting for 60% of new vehicle registrations last year and 40% of the global electric car stock, according to recent testimony from Ilaria Mazzocco at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Most of the EVs that are sold in China are made at home. The country builds about 40 million cars per year but buys only about 20 million of them, which leaves it with enough supply to fill consumers’ needs overseas. And since automakers in Europe, the US, and other parts of Asia are still slow to roll out EVs – and even slower to roll out affordable ones – China’s manufacturers have spotted an opening.

As of last year, 20% of electric car models on offer in China were priced at less than $15,000. Compare that to the US and Europe, where there were no electric models on sale for less than $20,000.

UBS figures that by 2030, Chinese automakers will have more than 33% of the global car market sewn up, led by BYD – that’s about double last year’s 17%. It sees the market share of Western companies overall dropping to 58%, from 81%, but sees Tesla’s share quadrupling, to 8%. The biggest market share gains are expected to happen in Europe, with smaller gains in the US, Japan, South Korea, and India.

What’s the opportunity here?

There are already a number of winners from the EV revolution and, as this long-term megatrend is just getting started, you can safely bet that more will appear.

BYD and Tesla look set to be two EV winners, but whether a good company is a good investment depends on the price you pay. Right now, BYD looks more reasonably priced, with expected profit growth of more than 30% over the next two years, and with its shares currently trading at a 20x forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio. But, remember, Buffett recently sold down some of his stake, plus, there’s a fair bit of ongoing geopolitical uncertainty, so it’s worth bearing in mind that investments with China come with added risk. Tesla, meanwhile, is expected to grow its profit by 45% over the next two years, but you’ll pay more for its shares, which are trading near a 50x forward P/E ratio. Legacy automakers like Mercedez-Benz and BMW trade for much cheaper, around a 5x P/E ratio, but there’s no profit growth forecasted for either as the combustion engine slowdown slams the brakes on any forward movement from their EV launches.

But there’s a corner of this European market that is likely to benefit from the EV transition: semiconductor makers like Infineon and ST Microelectronics. Executives from both companies said this month at a tech conference that they expect to see strong 2024 growth, thanks to auto-related demand.

The Global X Lithium & Battery Tech ETF (ticker: LIT; expense ratio: 0.75%) could be the best way to gain exposure to the whole global EV theme. It tracks the Solactive Global Lithium Index, and its top holdings include Tesla, battery maker Panasonic, EV manufacturers Rivian and BYD, and lithium miner Albemarle.

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