Why Tesla Should Worry about Nikola, Workhorse, Nio and Hyliion

When a single company owns 80% of the U.S. market share for its product, one of two things can happen. Either it faces regulatory scrutiny for antitrust violations or it spawns a host of competitors.

Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) has not had to face any antitrust reviews (yet), but competition for the electric vehicle (EV) market is heating up. Recent initial public offerings (IPOs) for semi-tractor (Class 8) maker Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) and Workhorse Group Inc. (NASDAQ: WKHS) have sent the EV sector soaring.

Another expected IPO is due later this year when special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Tortoise Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: SHLL) completes a planned reverse merger with semi-maker Hyliion, a Class 8-electric power-train maker that uses a natural gas generator to recharge its batteries. Nikola also offers an all-electric semi along with an electric-hydrogen hybrid.

All this competition has to be a source of concern for Tesla. Even though the company’s share price sets a new high nearly every day, the total market for EVs remains limited. According to the latest report from the International Energy Agency, the global fleet of EVs totaled 7.2 million vehicles last year, with 2019 sales of 2.1 million units, a year-over-year increase of 40%.

On Wednesday, Goldman Sachs lifted its 12-month price target on Tesla stock to $1,300.00 per share. The stock closed at $1,365.88. The consensus price target on the stock is a mere $766.47.

Either analysts can’t keep up with investors’ enthusiasm for Tesla’s stock or they are not believers in the future of EVs. Or, they think that one of its competitors has a chance of whittling off some market share and bringing Tesla back to earth.

Both Nikola and Hyliion are going after the heavy-duty, Class 8 semi-tractor market. While Tesla announced its own Class 8 truck in 2017, along with plans for limited delivery late last year. that delivery date has been pushed out until next year, although first units are due late this year. FedEx, UPS and Walmart were among companies placing orders for the new trucks, which carried a starting price of around $150,000 and required a deposit of $20,000 with each order.

Workhorse, a maker of electric delivery vans aimed at the so-called last-mile sector, delivered 125 hybrid-electric trucks to UPS in 2015 and recently received a $70 million investment from a single institutional investor to “accelerate” its production ramp for next year.

Tesla has made no noise about going after the delivery van market that is currently dominated by traditional automakers like Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler and all the usual suspects. Analysts at Research and Markets said the global van market topped $129 billion in 2019 and will rise to more than $164 billion by 2023.

The Nikola and Hyliion Class 8 trucks are taking dead aim at the Tesla Semi, and none of the three has much to lose by not ramping production this year. IHS Markit has forecast production of Class 8 trucks in North America will be down by 50% this year. The sales drop benefits the startups more, giving them a chance to iron out initial production issues. That means that all three begin 2021 on a level playing field.

In the passenger car sector, Tesla really has no challengers. China-based Nio Inc. (NYSE: NIO) offers just one model in the United States, the ES8, which carries a list price of $66,000 and has an EPA-rated range of 185 miles on a single charge. The Tesla Model 3 LR costs $46,990 and has a range of 322 miles.

Based on Wednesday’s closing prices, Tesla stock has gained about 227% so far in 2020. Workhorse shares have gained nearly 450% so far this year, and Nio barely trails Tesla with a year-to-date gain of 220%. Nikola stock has gained about 60% since its IPO in early June.

In a noteworthy development this week, analysts at JPMorgan upgraded their rating on Nikola to Overweight with a price target of $45. RBC rates the stock as Sector Perform with a price target of $46, and Cowen rates the shares Outperform with a $79 price target.

While Nikola and Hyliion are targeting the heavy-duty Class 8 sector that the Tesla Semi is also aiming at, but with different powertrain systems. The Workhorse van is addressing a sector that Tesla is not competing in, and in the passenger car sector, none of the traditional carmakers comes close to Tesla’s combination of price and range, the two options most important to mainstream vehicle buyers.

Tesla’s worries, though real, are more about the company’s own ability to execute rather than on the threat of crippling competition. Tesla already has developed a battery with a 400-mile range, a milestone that Loup Venture analyst Gene Munster views as “as both critical and optimal, given that it represents a full day of driving (50mph average over 8 hours) and should all but eliminate range anxiety.”

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