Stocks to buy

The electric vehicle industry has already passed $1 trillion in sales and is heading much higher. Leading the pack is, of course, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), which has become a dominant threat to every other auto company out there. All thanks to its ability to scale the production of lithium-ion batteries, which then allows to to scale the production of electric vehicles. So, if another company is to eventually become one of the top “Tesla killers,” it has to be able to compete with Tesla’s giga-factories in the production of cheap, reliable lithium batteries. It’s not enough to have a car that is pretty or goes fast. You must mass produce it, which means you need access to mass produced car batteries.

For this reason, I think most of America’s electric car start-ups are doomed. Forget Lucid (NASDAQ:LCID), and Rivian (NASDAQ:RIVN), forget Fisker (NYSE:FSR) and Lordstown (NASDAQ:RIDE). Instead, focus on stocks, such as:

BYD Company BYDDY $51.61
Geely Automotive GELYY $24.49
Amplify Lithium & Battery ETF BATT $12.09
Volkswagen VWAGY $16.88
Ford Motor F $11.76

BYD Company (BYDDY)

Source: shutterstock.com/DigitalPen

If any company in the world can be termed a “Tesla killer,” it’s BYD (OTCMKTS:BYDDY). BYD currently has a market cap of about $100 billion. It’s also growing faster than Tesla. BYD began as a battery maker, with investment from Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A). Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger calls BYD Berkshire’s best-ever investment, and says it’s so far ahead of Tesla in China “it’s almost ridiculous.” 

The numbers bear him out. BYD now has a 30% share of China’s electric car market.  BYD makes six of the 10 leading electric car models in China. Tesla’s share is 7.6%. BYD has done this by aiming at the mid-market, with cars like the Song SUV costing just $27,500. While Tesla is selling the equivalent of Cadillacs, BYD is making Chevrolets. A Chevy doesn’t deliver a Cadillac’s profits, but volume means it’s where the money is.

In the Sept. quarter BYD earned the equivalent of $940 million on sales of nearly $19 billion. Sales were twice those of a year before, and up 34% for the quarter. Over the first three quarters it generated $15 billion in free cash flow, based on the Yuan-Dollar exchange rate of about 6.94. That exchange rate offers a second tailwind to BYD earnings. The dollar’s value peaked in November. Once interest rates fall, the value of the Yuan will rise. A year ago, the Yuan was trading at 6.2 to the dollar.

BYD has even more control over its supply chain than Tesla. It invests in lithium mines and is the country’s second-largest producer of lithium batteries.  Its latest battery production plant can produce 20 GwH of batteries per year. That’s half of Tesla’s own production target.

Geely Automotive (GELYY)

Source: Alexandru Nika / Shutterstock.com

Geely Automobile (OTCMKTS:GELYY) has gone toe to toe with Tesla in the luxury EV market. It is now taking the competition to Europe, where EV sales are growing rapidly. Geely is best known for its Polestar brand of electrics. It launched Polestar in 2015 after buying Volvo in 2010. It bought a commercial for the Polestar at last year’s Super Bowl. In addition to Volvo it also owns Lotus. Geely is beginning to push its European names aside, with plans to launch 7 new electrics under the name Geely Yinhe over the next two years.  (Yinhe is Chinese for Galaxy.)

Geely holds a 5.5% share of the electric car market in China, against 7.6% for Tesla. Its most recent report, for the quarter ending in June, had it earning the equivalent of $250 million on sales of a little over $10 billion. Its year-over-year growth rate was 70%. The market cap is nearly $14 billion.

You can avoid some of the currency risks in Geely by buying Polestar (NASDAQ:PSNY), which held its IPO on the NASDAQ last June. You can also buy stock in its Volvo (OTCMKTS:VLVLY) unit, which held an IPO in Sweden in 2021. (Volvo is retooling its electric car lineup under Geely’s direction. )

Geely’s Zeekr brand, which now trades in Hong Kong with a market cap higher than Xpeng (NASDAQ:XPEV), also plans a U.S. IPO. Its Lotus brand has agreed to go public in the U.S. through a SPAC deal valuing it at $5.4 billion. While Polestar is known for luxury, Geely Yinhe will be its entry into the mid-market, with cars starting at just $30,000. 

Amplify Lithium & Battery Technology ETF (BATT)

Source: Sopotnicki / Shutterstock.com

You can’t buy stock in the world’s biggest battery maker.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL)  only trades on China’s Shenzhen exchange, under the ticker symbol 300750.SZ. It does not trade on OTC markets. CATL, however, is the world’s largest maker of lithium-ion batteries.

The best way to buy into CATL is through an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) that includes it in its holdings, like the Amplify Lithium & Battery Technology ETF (NYSEARCA:BATT). About 8% of BATT’s holdings were recently in CATL. CATL’s price has been slumping lately because prices of lithium and cobalt, the two main ingredients in car batteries, are down 21% since November.

CATL’s power is based on scale and technology, not cheap labor, or cheap lithium. It has launched a price war aiming to gain market share. It already has almost 35% of the global market. Among the companies it supplies is Tesla. As electric car production swells, CATL is growing like a weed. It earned nearly $5 billion last year, up 52% from 2021. That’s on sales of about $38.5 billion, or 267 billion Yuan.

CATL stock is down 24% over the last year as China has dropped electric car subsidies. This has only made it more powerful on the global stage. Ford Motor’s (NYSE:F) new $3.5 billion battery plant in Michigan will be a CATL plant. 

Volkswagen (VWAGY)

Source: Shutterstock

The last decade’s Dieselgate scandal set Volkswagen (OTCMKTS:VWAGY) on a path toward becoming Europe’s premier electric car company. Last year Volkswagen produced over 572,000 electric cars, up 26% from 2021. It is strongest in Europe, and is in fourth place in the U.S. Most of its sales are still sold in China, where sales grew 68%. VW quickly pivoted to China after Dieselgate, developing a platform called, in German, the Modularer E-Antriebs Baukasten, or all its electric models.

VW also owns Porsche and Audi, and has 15,000 charging stations including 800 stations with 3,500 fast chargers in the U.S., under its Electrify America brand. These are mostly located near grocery stores, department stores, and shopping malls.

VW merged with Porsche (OTCMKTS:POAHY) in 2011, which held a public offering of stock last year. VW shares are down 38% over the last year, largely down to the war in Ukraine, which has disrupted supply chains. But it still has a market cap of nearly $90 billion. It plans to produce 5 million electric cars along 7 product lines by the end of the decade. Its new Scout brand of off-road electric pick-ups will be produced at a new U.S. plant  to tap subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act. It already has a U.S. plant in Chattanooga and a Porsche North America headquarters in Atlanta.

Ford Motor (F)

Source: Shutterstock

If any legacy auto maker in the U.S. can compete with Tesla, it’s probably Ford Motor (NYSE:F). Ford understands that batteries are the key to electrics, not design. Even before opening its new battery plant in Kentucky, built with LG Chem. (It trades in Korea under the symbol 051910. Ford is also working on building a second LG plant in Turkey to supply Europe.

Even more important may be Ford’s two-year effort, culminating in January, to build a CATL battery plant in Michigan. The three plants, taken together, should make it self-sufficient in batteries within a few years. But it will take Ford years to get where Tesla is now, especially in terms of profitability. It must continually plan for layoffs and plant closings. CEO Jim Farley says more layoffs are coming. Each push to layoff car workers riles up those who remain. Ford is also losing brand loyalty for the first time in years.

This is why Ford is a cheap stock. At just $12.15 per share, the market cap is $48 billion, less than one third Ford sales. It has an average rating of hold. Tesla stock, by contrast, sells for 8 times sales because it has scaled battery production and no legacy gas-powered car plants. It’s still called a buy at Tipranks. The cost of Ford’s transition from gas to electric is thus estimated by the market to be about $600 billion. Some might call that excessive.

On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held no positions in any companies mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. His 10th novel is The Time Tunnel, now available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at danablankenhorn@gmail.com or tweet him at @danablankenhorn. He writes a Substack newsletter, Facing the Future, which covers technology, markets, and politics.

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