Many of the major auto companies have released their sales (deliveries) numbers for September and their respective third quarters. In this article, we'll look at how Tesla (TSLA) and its major competitors among the Chinese EV players -- NIO (NIO), XPeng (XPEV), Li Auto (LI), and BYD (OTCPK:BYDDY)(OTCPK:BYDDF) -- have performed during the period and what it means for investors.
Taking a quick look at the overall electric vehicle market, it is pretty clear that growth remains at a very high level. In China, the world's biggest EV market, EVs had a market share of more than 30% in August, the highest level on record. In a single month, more than 600,000 new energy vehicles were sold, up more than 100% year over year. The same holds true for the year-to-date number. This includes plug-in hybrids, which are responsible for around one-third of overall NEV sales. But even if we exclude those and focus on BEVs alone, growth has been very strong and the market share of these vehicles in China has risen to a pretty high 20% already. Considering where EVs stood a couple of years ago, that's a lot of progress.
That is good news for EV manufacturers such as the ones mentioned above, but it is also pretty clear that competition is growing further and further, as new startups are introducing their first models, while legacy players expand their EV lineups as well. On top of that, there's also a third type of new competitor: Tech companies that are moving into the automobile space, which includes Apple (AAPL) via its Titan project, but also others such as Foxconn.
What this means is that even though the market for EVs more than doubled in China in recent months, many EV manufacturers are not generating sales growth in the 100%+ range. Instead, quite a couple of them are struggling to grow at half the market rate, with BYD being a noteworthy outlier.
Going with these five EV players in alphabetical order, let's start with BYD.
BYD reported sales of 201,000 new energy vehicles for September, representing an increase of more than 180% year over year and close to 20% month-to-month. That's the highest monthly total for the company ever. For the third quarter, BYD reported 539,000 NEVs being sold, which represents a gigantic 194% increase year over year. Clearly, BYD is growing faster than the overall EV market in China and also on a global scale, even though deliveries are mostly centered on its home market so far. That at least partially explains why many other EVs are struggling to grow at the market rate -- BYD is gaining market share quickly, which means that others must be losing market share.
Li Auto reported 11,500 deliveries for September, up by a compelling 63% year over year. Of course, that's just one-third of BYD's relative growth rate despite a smaller absolute basis, but we'll see that 60%+ growth is still better than what many of its peers are generating. For the third quarter, Li has delivered 26,500 vehicles, unfortunately only up by 6% year over year. Deliveries for July and August were pretty weak, partially due to lockdowns in place across China.
NIO reported 10,900 vehicles delivered in September, which represents an increase of just 2% year over year. Overall, NIO delivered 32,000 vehicles in the third quarter, which was a new record high for the company. Year-over-year growth for the whole quarter was not too impressive, however, at 29%, with supply chain issues caused by lockdowns being an important headwind, according to management.
Tesla does not break out deliveries on a monthly basis but reported its Q3 deliveries a couple of days ago. These numbers got a lot of attention, as Tesla is the most-watched EV company, and since it missed estimates. The company delivered 344,000 vehicles during the third quarter, representing growth of 43% year over year.
Finally, XPeng reported that its deliveries totaled 8,500 during September, and 29,500 during the third quarter, which was up 15% year over year, missing previous guidance and analyst expectations.
There are thus very large differences when it comes to the growth these companies were able to deliver during the last couple of months. To me, it looks like BYD is the clear winner: Not only did it by far hit the highest relative growth rate for both September and Q3 overall, almost tripling its sales, but the company has also become the largest NEV company in the world, with its sales volumes roughly 60% higher than those of Tesla. It should be noted that BYD sells PHEVs on top of BEVs, thus Tesla still holds the crown in the BEV segment of the overall EV market. But with BYD's growth rate being around 4.5x as high as Tesla's growth rate, it would not be surprising to see BYD overtake Tesla in the BEV space in the near term, on top of holding the EV crown already.
BYD looks like the clear winner from a sales performance perspective, while the other four don't look as strong by far. In fact, Li, NIO, Tesla, and XPeng all grew less than the market during the third quarter, meaning all of them have been losing market share. As long as the market continues to grow at a fast pace, market share losses are not necessarily a disaster. But a company that grows its market share in a growth market is of course preferably compared to a company that loses market share in a growth market.
Tesla delivered the second-best relative growth rate and is also one of the leaders in absolute terms, which is why I'd rate it the second-best performer during the period. The other three smaller Chinese EV players did not deliver an especially convincing performance, delivering year-over-year growth of 6%-29% for the third quarter. Lockdowns in China had a large impact on them, which is why investors can expect that growth rates will improve somewhat going forward. But still, growing a relatively small absolute sales number at a growth rate that is way lower than that of BYD or Tesla is far from a great look.
Sales volume growth does not 100% translate into revenue growth, of course. Different mix between higher-priced and lower-priced models can have an impact, while this also holds true for price increases and rebates that automobile companies offer sometimes. Tesla has notably increased its pricing over the last year, and the product mix has also improved, as its sales of high-end models such as the S and X have risen more than the overall sales number. It's thus not surprising to see that analysts are expecting revenues for the third quarter to grow more than its deliveries. Right now, analysts are forecasting a 62% revenue gain, which would be pretty strong.
Likewise, revenue growth at BYD will not be equal to its deliveries growth during the third quarter. BYD is a major battery manufacturer and supplier to other automobile companies, thus selling its own vehicles is not the sole source of revenue for the company. BYD is forecasted to grow its sales by 60% year over year, as growth in its non-auto business will be lower compared to the growth in its auto business. On top of that, the introduction of lower-priced vehicles might have lowered its average sales price compared to a year ago. That being said, BYD's ultra-fast growth in its vehicles business should push up the company-wide growth rate going forward, which is why revenue growth could accelerate over the next couple of quarters as long as deliveries continue to set new records.
NIO, XPeng, and Li are forecasted to grow their revenues by 22%, 10%, and 28%, respectively, on a year-over-year basis. This means that the market is anticipating that NIO's and XPeng's revenue per vehicle will decline slightly, while Li Auto is forecasted to grow its revenue more than its deliveries. Since the discrepancy is pretty wide in Li's case, I believe that it is likely that revenue estimates will get adjusted downwards over the next couple of days. After all, deliveries came in below expectations, and some Wall Street firms may not have adjusted their models to incorporate these lower-than-expected deliveries yet. In that case, downside share price risk seems more pronounced for Li compared to the others as it seems more likely that price targets and ratings will get cut.
The slightly lower revenue growth rate that is forecasted for NIO and XPeng, relative to their respective deliveries, makes sense, as both companies have been expanding their product lineups with lower-priced models. On top of that, they didn't hike their prices as aggressively as Tesla did, for example.
Tesla is the most profitable one, while the other four companies are not or only barely profitable. Of course, for a fast-growing company in a growth market, current profits are not necessarily the most important thing. BYD with its excellent growth looks compelling to me. This does especially hold true when we consider that its current order backlog stands at more than 700,000 vehicles, and current wait times are, on average, more than four months. Clearly, demand is very large, even in a very uncertain macro environment. Tesla's delivery times have declined in the recent past, which suggests that its order backlog is shrinking.
Looking at the sales multiples of these companies, we see the following:
Note: No forward sales multiple available on YCharts for BYD, but according to Seeking Alpha's data, the sales multiple for the company for the current year is 1.39.
Tesla is, by far, the most expensive among these five companies from a sales multiple perspective. Due to its above-average margins and strong brand, a premium valuation makes sense. It can be argued, however, whether that premium should be as large as it is.
BYD looks like an attractive value -- not only is it growing ultra-fast, but it also is the cheapest among these five by far. Add its excellent battery technology (that is sold to, among others, Tesla) and the fact that Warren Buffett believes in the company (Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)(BRK.B) owns a major stake), and BYD seems like the best pick among these five to me -- from a deliveries in Q3 perspective, but also considering other factors.
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