April sales soar for the company as rivals production is hindered by lockdown measures
BYD is Buffett-backed and a vertically sound automotive firm that manufactures their own batteries and chips. They are so committed to the EV future that as of late March this year, the company shifted to production of strictly hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Their current resilience is a consequence of their inherent design that's been years in the making. With the EV sector requiring extra care in the near term, BYD has flexed its muscles with stable and record breaking sales.
BYD’s sales rose 1% from March despite competitors having sluggish performance. This stark contrast is highly impressive despite indicators like the China Electric Vehicle Index having fallen 10.5% in the past month. This number derives from the fact that in just Shanghai alone five major car companies had production grind down 75% in April according to the China Passenger Cars Association. With Shanghai being home to firms like SAIC Motor, GM, Nio, Tesla and others, the shutdown numbers are alarming. Nationwide, the report indicated that China’s passenger car production plunged 41.1% year-on-year and 46.8% compared to March.
The result of these numbers is that most firms are now facing near-term profitability pressure. Automakers with diversified geographical exposure and/or strong brands are going to handle these pressures better than highly specialized firms, especially start ups who run on low levels of profitability as is. BYD’s higher levels of vertical integration pushed atop of rankings for readiness to navigate future crises. Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development moved BYD up to fifth place while Tesla remained atop for the fourth consecutive year. BYD’s domestic EV rivals XPeng, Li Auto and Nio ranked 12, 14, and 18, respectively.
“Tesla of China” Nio sold 5,074 vehicles in April, off 49% from March and down 29% from the year prior. Xpeng performed slightly better selling 9,002 vehicles in April, down only 42% from March but up 75% from last year. Li Auto has fared worse having only delivered 4,167 Li One hybrid SUVs, down 62% vs. March's 11,034 and 25% below a year earlier. Li Auto also forecast Q2 revenue missing market expectations. For Tesla, their only facility on the mainland is in Shanghai. This may give sufficient reason for believing that Tesla very well may be the hardest hit by the Covid disruptions in China. They do operate globally with their newest plants in Berlin and Austin beginning to pick up production themselves. This explains why they remain number 1 in readiness for crises. Aside from rank, within China, they only operate in Shanghai which leaves them vulnerable to local volatility in work as well as selling conditions. Despite this, Elon Musk said recently that he expects China's COVID restrictions to be less disruptive and that China sales would account for 25 to 30% of its overall sales in the long term.
As state sponsored subsidies for EVs are set to expire within the year, localities within China like Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang are considering a reintroduction of cash grants of their own. Going forward, provincial-level governments may distribute billions of yuan to buyers to keep the momentum going on the national transition. Guangdong led the way offering buyers 10000 yuan in May and June for electric car purchases. With the automotive vehicle industry being keystone to China’s economy, it's crucial that they not only sustain demand, but they must also get these factories up and running for not only local demand, but the growing demand globally. China is in the best position to capitalize on this demand if they play their cards right and come to the rescue of the battered industry. Musk’s company enjoys the benefits of portioning some operations in China long term. He has also recently said himself that China will produce “strong” EV companies going forward. Policy making must avoid self inflicting damage to the country's pivotal industries.
A risk that the EV industry faces at a national level within China, especially in reaction to short term turmoil, is overcapacity. As companies race against each other to produce fast, quick, and in competitive volumes, down the line, all of these factories risk overproducing a glut of EVs that can flood the market. Underutilization of these factories will be a problem if things continue at the current pace. Even last year, Xiao Yaqing, the minister for industry and information technology had said that electric car makers are mostly small and scattered. All of the overheated competition that has played out may result in long term inefficiencies.
BYD and Tesla are exemplary and the current driving force in the emerging market. The aspirational firms Nio, Li Auto, and Xpeng are certainly having their vulnerabilities exposed while global firms like Tesla and VW are employing tactics to diversify outside of China. If there was ever a worst case scenario to slow down and damage the EV evolution, the current conditions couldn’t be too far off. Assuming things marginally improve on macroeconomic levels, firms like Nio might be able to finally scale up sales volumes and approach BYD and Tesla. For now, everyone’s profitability will continue to take a beating.
A global recession seems to be looming as inflationary pressures are worsening sentiment and hurting the outlook of industries. Emerging industries with firms especially leveraged heavily on rapid growth from the previous market boom are vulnerable. If Elon Musk is correct though, strong Chinese EV companies should be able to make it out as the market continues to adapt and evolve. BYD has proven that they have what it takes to withstand these pressures. The company is primed to go toe to toe with Tesla at least in China as their figures continue to rise. Though they are handling tough times well, investors should think about what BYDs market position will look like when the dust from this current disruption settles.