Breakingviews – Nio helps justify a little bit of the hype

HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) – It’s out with the old and in with Nio. The Chinese electric-car maker unveiled a new model and plans for a more powerful battery pack at its annual “Nio Day” extravaganza over the weekend. Those extras should smooth the way for its latest capital hike, but so much needs to go right to justify a $100 billion valuation that exceeds those of Ford, General Motors and Daimler. 

Nio’s products are rapidly improving. Founder William Li said the new 150 kWh batteries could one day give its ET7 a drive range of over 1,000 km (621 miles) as measured by Chinese standards, helping to ease range anxiety. The marque’s first sedan also comes with bells and whistles, including an autonomous driving system and inbuilt massage machines.

Consumer interest has been growing. Sales more than doubled last year to 43,728 units, and drivers seem to be enjoying the ride: all the Nio buyers surveyed by Bernstein analysts said they would purchase the brand again, according to a September report.

Investors are impressed too. Nio’s share price has surged more than 1,600% over the past year. And there are signs the company is not merely being swept along by the broader electric-vehicle mania: Tesla’s stock gained 750% over the same period.

Nio keeps guzzling capital, though. A $1.3 billion convertible bond offering announced on Monday marks its fourth time tapping markets in just seven months. The 1 billion yuan ($154 million) net loss it recorded in the third quarter was narrower than the 1.2 billion yuan from a year earlier, but more cash calls could be needed given the question marks over future revenue.

Li expects sales will be bolstered by battery leasing and other services. His new technology is tantalising, because if it can deliver on its promise, the novel business model could be lucrative. The range and lifespan from new power sources will determine how many times a battery can be recharged, and therefore how many months of subscriptions Nio will need to recoup costs.

The strategy feels almost as futuristic as the science. So does an enterprise value of 18 times expected sales. At least Nio is starting to justify a bit of the hype. Read More

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