Autos

NIO: Can the Tesla of China Out-Tesla Elon Musk?

Jon C. Ogg

The investing public was obsessed with Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA). Once the dust eventually settles and the appetite for risk is back on, it’s likely that Tesla will again be talked about endlessly. Until then, there is “the Tesla of China.” Shanghai-based electric vehicle (EV) maker NIO Ltd. (NYSE: NIO) was seeing its shares surge higher almost in defiance of or with ignorance about just how bad the last two trading sessions have been for the Dow, S&P 500 and NASDAQ.

NIO announced that the company has entered a framework agreement with the municipal government of Hefei, China. This city may not be at the top of most travel lists for tourists, but the city has over 4.2 million residents in the Anhui province, and it’s located about 200 miles to the west of Shanghai. Hefei happens to be NIO’s main manufacturing and assembly center.

A subsequent analyst upgrade (Bernstein to Market Perform from Underperform) may have also added some volts to the early morning gains. Shortly after the markets opened, when the market indexes were still positive, NIOs U.S.-listed ADSs were trading up almost 30%.

The agreement which was announced signaled that there will be funding from Hefei in exchange for moving NIO’s headquarters to the city. The move also expands NIO’s relationship with local ecosystem partners there. While the details were not official on last look, media reports that NIO will use this new agreement to help raise close to $1.4 billion in new capital to bolster the balance sheet and/or to expand operations.

Why the new capital will matter so much is that Tesla has been expanding in China and has been reported to be using new cobalt-free battery technology to lower its costs. In many ways, China could represent a larger opportunity than the United States for Elon Musk and Tesla shareholders. It is simply expected that NIO would like to thwart some of Tesla’s ambitions by dominating the higher end of the market locally.

Most of the EVs in China are coming in at lower prices, but similar to Tesla the strategy was to sell an electric sports car called the EP9 at a big premium. NIO was founded in in 2014 and the company has a stated mission “to shape a joyful lifestyle by offering premium smart electric vehicles and being the best user enterprise.”

Again, no formal details were announced with the “framework” announcement on Tuesday. The company’s release stated:

The framework agreement is preliminary in nature, and its implementation will be subject to legally binding definitive transaction documents to be discussed and entered into between Hefei government and NIO. Under the framework agreement, Hefei government expects to provide resources and funding support for the long-term growth of NIO in Hefei, and NIO plans to establish NIO China headquarters, further expand its operations and deepen its relationship with local ecosystem partners in Hefei. NIO will, consistent with applicable laws and listing rules, announce any material information or development promptly in connection with the implementation of this framework agreement.

NIO shares may have been up about 30% right after the open, but the gain with just over 40 minutes until the close was about 14% at $4.41. Its prior close of $3.88 was against a 52-week trading range of $1.19 to $10.64. NIO’s market cap is already about $4.7 billion.

Meanwhile, Tesla shares were last seen trading down about 4% at $801.00, with a 52-week range of $176.99 to $968.99. Tesla’s market cap is over $147 billion at this time. Tesla’s most recent stock offering was 2.65 million shares at roughly $767 per share for an estimate capital raise of about $2 billion prior to factoring in any overallotments and commissions.