|3 Reasons NIO Is My Top EV Pick|
Apr. 18, 2021 11:44 AM ET NIO Inc. (NIO)AAPL, BITA, F... 66 Comments31 Likes
NIO just finalized an agreement with Sinopec to build 5,000 battery swap stations.
NIO has remarkable management with experience in the auto industry.
NIO is differentiating its product much like Apple did in the past.
Photo by mevans/E+ via Getty Images
In my latest article on NIO Inc. ( NIO), I reached a target price of at least, $80 using a DCF model. I also mentioned there are some key areas, which are hard to quantify, that make NIO a compelling investment. Today I expand on these ideas, focusing on BaaS, NIO’s CEO, and the company’s overall marketing approach. These ideas are hard to put into numbers, but, in my opinion, prove that NIO has a bright future.
BaaS: Stronger Than Ever
NIO and Chinese state-owned oil and gas giant Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Company Limited ( SHI) announced on Thursday the signing of a strategic partnership to build battery swap stations. Both companies posted news of their agreement on their Twitter feeds while sharing images of the unveiling of their new battery swap station 2.0 at Chaoying station in Beijing, which has now begun operating. It is the first second-generation battery swap station for the Chinese EV manufacturer, and its 201st overall, since the first was inaugurated in 2018.
Although the details and scale of the deal with NIO are not clear yet, Sinopec has stated that they aim to have 5,000 battery swap stations in their network by 2025, as they aim to transition to a higher presence in electricity and non-oil business. On NIO's side, the company’s goal, which it has described as conservative, is to have 500 battery swap stations by the end of 2021.
This is the largest so far, but not the only partnership of NIO’s in this space. A few weeks ago, NIO reached an agreement with another state-owned infrastructure company, Beijing Shoufa, to build stations in the Beijing area. NIO president Qin Lihong said on Thursday that they are aiming to add nearly 100 more third-party partners this year.
The idea of battery swap stations is that consumers can drive into the station with an uncharged battery and have it automatically replaced by a fully charged one in just a few minutes. The 2.0 version of these allows drivers to complete the battery swap without leaving their car and can perform up to 312 swaps per day.
A mass rollout of these stations is a key part of NIO’s BaaS strategy (battery as a service). With this model, customers do not purchase the battery with the car and own it, but rather pay a subscription fee to “rent” charged batteries and replace them as they become uncharged. By not including the battery, the initial purchase price of the vehicle is reduced by up to almost 20,000 USD. As more and more swap stations are deployed, the convenience gap between electric and petrol-fuelled vehicles could gradually disappear.
NIO is not alone in the battery swapping business, nor did it invent it. Israeli start-up Better Place tried to develop the concept in collaboration with Renault ( OTC:RNSDF) in 2007 without much success. Today, a handful of companies around the globe are trying to deploy such systems, like Blue Park Smart Energy, a competitor in China with government influence, or American start-up Ample, which has begun operating several such stations in California, catering for fleet vehicles.
Tesla, Inc. ( TSLA) started with the idea of battery swapping in 2013 but abandoned the program in 2016 in favour of its superchargers. At the time, it may have appeared like the right strategy given the limited amount of EV’s on the road. Superchargers are much more efficient than regular ones, achieving a range of up to 200 miles in 15 minutes, and they are smaller and much easier to deploy than battery swap stations. This has allowed Tesla to provide over 20,000 superchargers to its customers around the world. However, with EV presence increasing fast, the economies of scale may cause a shift in which is the most efficient of the two solutions.
It remains to be seen what will happen with regards to the standardization of these battery swaps, as for now, customers can only swap batteries at their manufacturer’s station.
Though not the creator of the technology, NIO appears to be moving fastest towards dominating what could be the future of EV refueling, and it could be shaping up as a supplier of BaaS services to other manufacturers, increasing the scope of its business within the industry. The company already has an agreement with Ford Motor Company ( F) to allow their Mustang-E in China to use these battery swapping stations too.
This step sets NIO apart from the competition and puts it on the road to be much more than an EV manufacturer, by also becoming a supplier of critical infrastructure in what will soon be the largest economy in the world.
One thing we don't hear a lot about is NIO's management. In the classic China v U.S battle it’s easy to assume that the American companies are the ones bringing innovation and cutting-edge ideas, while the Chinese can only compete in lower production costs through cheaper labour. But the Chinese culture and economy also reward entrepreneurship, and no more proof is needed than the fact that Beijing now boasts the most billionaires of any city in the world.
NIO's CEO, William Li, is also an example of this. He went to Pekin University, perhaps the most prestigious one in China, and majored in sociology. However, he also studied law and computer science and became the only systems analyst among the liberal art students of Pekin University.
Li started his first business at 21 but found real success four years later with Bitauto Holdings Limited ( BITA), which is a portal that provides consumers with in-depth information about cars. He was the CEO of Bitauto from 2005-2013, during which time the company went public and achieved over $1 billion valuations. In 2014, Li started NIO, and here we are today.
What I like the most about Li, is that he has experience in the automobile sector. In fact, he may have acquired the most important experience of all; knowing what the consumer wants.
Li has a proven track record of success and laser focus on NIO. I think it is this understanding of the consumer which will position NIO on a different level to its competition. Much like Apple Inc. ( AAPL), NIO is investing in creating a differentiated product and building a strong community.
Doing Things The Apple Way
Following on from the previous point, I think NIO is positioning itself very well in terms of consumer demand. Vehicles, like phones, are a statement about who you are, and NIO is building a brand that people can identify with. Li has already stated that he views Audi ( OTCPK:AUDVF) and BMW ( OTCPK:BMWYY) as their real competition. In other words, luxury cars. Interestingly, luxury brands outperformed mainstream models in 2020, capturing 44$ of the market share, compared to 40% the year before. While Tesla, for example, is lowering the price of its cars NIO has kept its prices steady and is clearly tackling the high-end of the market through some key measures.
First and foremost, the implementation of BaaS offers a lot of value and convenience, especially in crowded Chinese cities. Also, NIO has been rolling out models aggressively. The company already has the EC6, ES6, ES8, and ET7 on the market. Notice too how the models are named sequentially, using clear language. This gives consumers the option of choice and easy comparability. Can you think of another company that does this?
Also, NIO is taking the Apple store concept to the next level. Anyone who owns or has pre-ordered a NIO gets access to NIO Houses. At their core level, these are convenient charging locations, but these spaces are also designed as exclusive lounge areas, office spaces, and anything the customer wants. Lastly, to reinforce this idea of an exclusive club, NIO has its own App too.
So NIO has a very clearly defined strategy of targeting the luxury segment and creating a community of devoted fans, much like Apple. Given the fact that China is creating millionaires faster than any other country, I think this is a solid strategy.
In conclusion, NIO has key factors coming into play that make it a compelling investment. Their BaaS model has the potential to bring in significant revenue, and I like the direction William Li is taking the company. He seems to know what consumers want, and that is in any business the most important factor. I remain bullish on NIO and stand by the most recent valuation I made of the company.