ECONOMY

China’s Nio Misses Profit Forecast Even as Vehicles Sales Grow

Chinese electric-vehicle upstart Nio Inc. posted a wider-than-expected loss in the fourth quarter, a year after a government cash injection saved the company from bankruptcy.

The net loss amounted to 1.39 billion yuan ($203.6 million), compared with 2.86 billion yuan a year earlier, the New York-listed company said in a statement on Monday in the U.S. That was larger than the average 664 million yuan loss deficit analysts were expecting. Revenue was 6.64 billion yuan, in line with estimates.

“NIO concluded a transformational 2020 with a new quarterly delivery record of 17,353 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2020,” Nio Chief Executive Officer William Li said in a statement. “The strong momentum has continued in 2021 as we achieved a historic monthly delivery of 7,225 vehicles in January.”

Nio’s changing fortunes are emblematic of Chinese EV makers’ nascent success. Rival Li Auto posted its first quarterly profit last week and SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. — General Motors Co.’s joint venture in China — has been outselling Tesla Inc. in recent months.

As of January, Nio had delivered 82,866 electric cars in China since its first model came to market in June 2018. Its high-end sport-utility vehicles have proven a hit with wealthy consumers, helping to push Nio’s gross margin to 17.2% in the December quarter.

Read more: EV Maker Nio’s Game Plan for Tesla Feud Main Focus of Results

Electric-vehicle demand in the world’s biggest car market is set to soar over the coming years as consumers embrace cleaner automobiles and the cost of EVs tumbles. Research firm Canalys said in a report last week that EV sales in China may grow more than 50% in 2021.

“Prospects are very good,” said Chris Jones, Canalys’s chief automotive analyst. “There is already an excellent network of standardized public EV chargers, good government support and now a return to strong consumer demand.”

Nio is coming off a stellar 2020, when shares climbed more than 1,000%. In the early months of last year, the automaker looked to be running out of cash having spent heavily on marketing and splashy showrooms for its ES8 and ES6 electric SUVs. But in April, it received a $1 billion investment from entities led by the municipal government of Hefei and in July, a $1.5 billion credit line from Chinese banks.

The company’s shares fell as much as 5.6% in after hours trading in New York.

Shanghai-based Nio’s SUV range starts from 358,000 yuan, more expensive than Tesla’s most popular basic Model 3 sedans, which start from 249,900 yuan. Nio unveiled its first all-electric sedan, the ET7, in January, a car that will pit it more squarely against the Palo Alto, California-based company.

Nio will focus on maintaining itself as a premium brand while “Tesla holds an ambition to become Volkswagen or Ford in electric-vehicle making,” Li said earlier this year. He talked about the possibility of producing cars for the general mass market in future, but “not necessarily under Nio’s brand.”

Another point of difference between Nio and Tesla is that Nio has embraced the so-called “battery-as-a-service” model, whereby consumers are able to buy the car shell while leasing the battery and upgrading it as technology changes and improves. This makes the upfront cost of buying an EV cheaper.

The new ET7 for example starts from 378,000 yuan without a battery pack, almost 20% less than a vehicle with a pre-paid battery.

“Car buyers’ growing appetite for luxury wheels could stoke robust sales growth for Nio over the next couple of years,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steve Man said in a recent note. He predicts Nio may reach breakeven on an operating profit basis as soon as late 2022.

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