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Cash is king for EV makers as soaring battery prices drive up vehicle production costs

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Production of electric Rivian R1T pickup trucks on April 11, 2022 at the company’s plant in Normal, Ill.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

In the transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric, the fuel every automaker is after these days is cold hard cash.

Established automakers and startups alike are rolling out new battery-powered models in an effort to meet growing demand. Ramping up production of a new model was already a fraught and expensive process, but rising material costs and tricky regulations for federal incentives are squeezing coffers even further.

Prices of the raw materials used in many electric-vehicle batteries — lithium, nickel and cobalt — have soared over the last two years as demand has skyrocketed, and it may be several years before miners are able to meaningfully increase supply.

Complicating the situation further, new U.S. rules governing EV buyer incentives will require automakers to source more of those materials in North America over time if they want their vehicles to qualify.

The result: new cost pressures for what was already an expensive process.

Automakers routinely spend hundreds of millions of dollars designing and installing tooling to build new high-volume vehicles — before a single new car is shipped. Nearly all global automakers now maintain hefty cash reserves of $20 billion or more. Those reserves exist to ensure that the companies can continue work on their next new models if and when a recession (or a pandemic) takes a bite out of their sales and profits for a few quarters.

All that money and time can be a risky bet: If the new model doesn’t resonate with customers, or if manufacturing problems delay its introduction or compromise quality, the automaker might not make enough to cover what it spent.

For newer automakers, the financial risks to designing a new electric vehicle can be existential.

Take Tesla. When the automaker began preparations to launch its Model 3, CEO Elon Musk and his team planned a highly automated production line for the Model 3, with robots and specialized machines that reportedly cost well over a billion dollars. But some of that automation didn’t work as expected, and Tesla moved some final-assembly tasks to a tent outside its factory.

Tesla learned a lot of expensive lessons in the process. Musk said later called the experience of launching the Model 3 “production hell” and said it nearly brought Tesla to the brink of bankruptcy.

As newer EV startups ramp up production, more investors are learning that taking a car from design to production is capital-intensive. And in the current environment, where deflated stock prices and rising interest rates have made it harder to raise money than it was just a year or two ago, EV startups’ cash balances are getting close attention from Wall Street.

Here’s where some of the most prominent American EV startups of the last few years stand when it comes to cash on hand:

Rivian

Production of electric Rivian R1T pickup trucks on April 11, 2022 at the company’s plant in Normal, Ill.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Rivian is by far the best-positioned of the new EV startups, with over $15 billion on hand as of the end of June. That should be enough to fund the company’s operations and expansion through the planned launch of its smaller “R2” vehicle platform in 2025, CFO Claire McDonough said during the company’s earnings call on Aug. 11.

Rivian has struggled to ramp up production of its R1-series pickup and SUV amid supply chain snags and early manufacturing challenges. The company burned about $1.5 billion in the second quarter, but it also said it plans to reduce its near-term capital expenditures to about $2 billion this year from $2.5 billion in its earlier plan to ensure it can meet its longer-term goals.

At least one analyst thinks Rivian will need to raise cash well before 2025: In a note following Rivian’s earnings report, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said that his bank’s model assumes Rivian will raise $3 billion via a secondary stock offering before the end of next year and another $3 billion via additional raises in 2024 and 2025.

Jonas currently has an “overweight” rating on Rivian’s stock, with a $60 price target. Rivian ended trading Friday at roughly $32 per share.

Lucid

People test drive Dream Edition P and Dream Edition R electric vehicles at the Lucid Motors plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, September 28, 2021.

Caitlin O’Hara | Reuters

Luxury EV maker Lucid Group doesn’t have quite as much cash in reserve as Rivian, but it’s not badly positioned. It ended the second quarter with $4.6 billion in cash, down from $5.4 billion at the end of March. That’s enough to last “well into 2023,” CFO Sherry House said earlier this month.

Like Rivian, Lucid has struggled to ramp up production since launching its Air luxury sedan last fall. It’s planning big capital expenditures to expand its Arizona factory and build a second plant in Saudi Arabia. But unlike Rivian, Lucid has a deep-pocketed patron — Saudi Arabia’s public wealth fund, which owns about 61% of the California-based EV maker and would almost certainly step in to help if the company runs short of cash.

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For the most part, Wall Street analysts were unconcerned about Lucid’s second-quarter cash burn. Bank of America’s John Murphy wrote that Lucid still has “runway into 2023, especially considering the company’s recently secured revolver [$1 billion credit line] and incremental funding from various entities in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.”

Murphy has a “buy” rating on Lucid’s stock and a price target of $30. He’s compared the startup’s potential future profitability to that of luxury sports-car maker Ferrari. Lucid currently trades for about $16 per share.

Fisker

People gather and take pictures after the Fisker Ocean all-electric SUV was revealed at Manhattan Beach Pier on November 16, 2021 in Manhattan Beach, California.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

Unlike Rivian and Lucid, Fisker isn’t planning to build its own factory to construct its electric vehicles. Instead, the company founded by former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker will use contract manufacturers — global auto-industry supplier Magna International and Taiwan’s Foxconn — to build its cars.

That represents something of a cash tradeoff: Fisker won’t have to spend nearly as much money up front to get its upcoming Ocean SUV into production, but it will almost certainly give up some profit to pay the manufacturers later on. 

Production of the Ocean is scheduled to begin in November at an Austrian factory owned by Magna. Fisker will have considerable expenses in the interim — money for prototypes and final engineering, as well as payments to Magna — but with $852 million on hand at the end of June, it should have no trouble covering those costs.

RBC analyst Joseph Spak said following Fisker’s second-quarter report that the company will likely need more cash, despite its contract-manufacturing model — what he estimated to be about $1.25 billion over “the coming years.”

Spak has an “outperform” rating on Fisker’s stock and a price target of $13. The stock closed Friday at $9 per share.

Nikola

Nikola Motor Company

Source: Nikola Motor Company

Nikola was one of the first EV makers to go public via a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. The company has begun shipping its battery-electric Tre semitruck in small numbers, and plans to ramp up production and add a long-range hydrogen fuel-cell version of the Tre in 2023.

But as of right now, it probably doesn’t have the cash to get there. The company has had a tougher time raising funds, following allegations from a short-seller, a stock price plunge and the ouster of its outspoken founder Trevor Milton, who is now facing federal fraud charges for statements made to investors.

Nikola had $529 million on hand as of the end of June, plus another $312 million available via an equity line from Tumim Stone Capital. That’s enough, CFO Kim Brady said during Nikola’s second-quarter earnings call, to fund operations for another 12 months — but more money will be needed before long.

“Given our target of keeping 12 months of liquidity on hand at the end of each quarter, we will continue to seek the right opportunities to replenish our liquidity on an ongoing basis while trying to minimize dilution to our shareholders,” Brady said. “We are carefully considering how we can potentially spend less without compromising our critical programs and reduce cash requirements for 2023.”

Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner estimates Nikola will need to raise between $550 million and $650 million before the end of the year, and more later on. He has a “hold” rating on Nikola with a price target of $8. The stock trades for $6 as of Friday’s close.

Lordstown

Lordstown Motors gave rides in prototypes of its upcoming electric Endurance pickup truck on June 21, 2021 as part of its “Lordstown Week” event.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

Lordstown Motors is in perhaps the most precarious position of the lot, with just $236 million on hand as of the end of June.

Like Nikola, Lordstown saw its stock price collapse after its founder was forced out following a short-seller’s allegations of fraud. The company shifted away from a factory model to a contract-manufacturing arrangement like Fisker’s, and it completed a deal in May to sell its Ohio factory, a former General Motors plant, to Foxconn for a total of about $258 million.

Foxconn plans to use the factory to manufacture EVs for other companies, including Lordstown’s Endurance pickup and an upcoming small Fisker EV called the Pear.

Despite the considerable challenges ahead for Lordstown, Deutsche Bank’s Rosner still has a “hold” rating on the stock. But he’s not sanguine. He thinks the company will need to raise $50 million to $75 million to fund operations through the end of this year, despite its decision to limit the first production batch of the Endurance to just 500 units.

“More importantly, to complete the production of this first batch, management will have to raise more substantial capital in 2023,” Rosner wrote after Lordstown’s second-quarter earnings report. And given the company’s difficulties to date, that won’t be easy.

“Lordstown would have to demonstrate considerable traction and positive reception for the Endurance with its initial customers in order to raise capital,” he wrote.

Rosner rates Lordstown’s stock a “hold” with a price target of $2. The stock closed Friday at $2.06.

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Ford’s supply chain problems include blue oval badges for F-Series pickups

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A Ford F-150 pickup truck is offered for sale at a dealership on September 6, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

DETROIT – Recent supply chain problems for Ford Motor have included a small, yet important, part for the company and its vehicles – the blue oval badges that don nearly every vehicle for its namesake brand.

The Detroit automaker has experienced shortages with the Ford badges as well as the nameplates that specify the model, a Ford spokesman confirmed to CNBC. The Wall Street Journal first reported the problem, including badges for its F-Series pickups, on Friday, citing anonymous sources.

The issue is the latest is a yearslong supply chain crisis that has ranged from critical parts such as semiconductor chips and wire harnesses to raw materials and now, vehicle badges.  

The Journal reported a Michigan-based supplier called Tribar Technologies that has made badges for Ford in the past had to limit operations in August, after disclosing to Michigan regulators it had discharged industrial chemicals into a local sewer system.

A message seeking comment from Tribar was not immediately answered. Ford declined to comment on whether Tribar’s limited operations were connected to the automaker’s name-badge shortage.

A spokesman also declined to comment on how many vehicles have been impacted by the problem.

The report comes after Ford on Monday said said parts shortages have affected roughly 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles, primarily high-margin trucks and SUVs, that haven’t been able to reach dealers. Ford also said at the time that it expects to book an extra $1 billion in unexpected supplier costs during the third quarter.

The announcement earlier this week, including a pre-release of some earnings expectations, caused Ford’s stock to have its worst day in more than 11 years.

Separately, Ford on Thursday announced plans to restructure its global supply chain to “support efficient and reliable sourcing of components, internal development of key technologies and capabilities, and world-class cost and quality execution.”

Ford shares fall after company warns of extra $1 billion in costs
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Bed Bath & Beyond’s merchandise problems will make it hard to pull off a turnaround this holiday season

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A person exits a Bed Bath & Beyond store in New York City, June 29, 2022.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Bed Bath & Beyond is betting on a drastic change in strategy and well-recognized brands to revive its struggling business. 

But the retailer’s strained relationships with suppliers of products such as air fryers and stand-mixers – some of which were missing from shelves two holiday seasons ago – could leave stores without hot items once again. Out-of-stock products could cripple Bed Bath’s already-declining sales and push the company toward bankruptcy.

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Bed Bath is fighting to win back customers as it contends with a leadership shakeup, a mountain of debt and the aftermath of a meme-stock frenzy fueled by activist investor Ryan Cohen. On top of that, tensions with merchandise suppliers grew as the company’s problems worsened, according to former executives who recently left the company. They declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak about internal discussions.

Chief Executive Mark Tritton, hired in 2019 to oversee the company’s previous turnaround effort, got ousted by the board this year. Bed Bath’s merchandising chief was also pushed out. Chief Financial Officer Gustavo Arnal, who was integral in lining up a new loan for Bed Bath, died by suicide earlier this month. The company is now led by an interim CEO and interim CFO.

On a call with investors in late August, two days before Arnal’s death, company leaders announced the fresh financing and revealed a new merchandising strategy that heavily relies on national brands to get more people into stores. Under Tritton, Bed Bath launched and tried to grow nine exclusive brands. Bed Bath now intends to sharply scale back those private labels – including discontinuing several.

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Bed Bath has merchandise from its remaining store brands to fill shelves. It has deals with direct-to-consumer brands, such as mattress maker Casper, and is trying to court more of them. Yet to deliver on its new plan, Bed Bath must secure steady shipments from brands many shoppers recognize.

Bed Bath leaders say that the strategy shift has been well received. Interim CEO Sue Gove said in August that she’s even received thank you notes from vendors. 

“As previously shared, we are committed to delivering what our customers want, driving growth and profitability, and strengthening our financial position. We recognize the vital importance of our supplier partners and our team is working continuously with them, where support has been enthusiastic and high, particularly with our largest partners,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. 

“They want us to win, by supporting the assortment changes previously announced to create the best experience for our shared customers.” Bed Bath plans to give an update on its vendor relationships and strategies when it reports fiscal second quarter earnings next week, she added. 

Over the past two years, however, Bed Bath has tested vendor relationships by making late payments, pushing aggressively into private labels and losing shoppers. Those tensions have intensified as financial troubles mounted, according to the former Bed Bath executives.

Make or break

A customer carries a shopping bag outside a Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. store in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Logan Cyrus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Vendor relationships can make or break a retailer. Typically, suppliers ship goods and get reimbursed weeks or months later. The terms can change, however, if a retailer shows signs of financial distress – sometimes pushing a vendor to shorten the payment window, require cash on delivery or halt shipments.

Bed Bath has already agreed to tougher payment terms and advance payments for some suppliers, the company said in public filings. Company leaders acknowledged in a call with investors that it was managing vendor relationships on a week to week basis. 

Tension with vendors is often a major reason retailers are pushed toward restructuring. Debt-burdened Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy in September 2017, and later liquidated, shortly after its suppliers demanded cash on delivery ahead of the holiday season. Other retailers, such as appliance chain H.H. Gregg and electronics store RadioShack, suffered a similar fate as they struggled to keep shelves stocked and burned through cash due to vendors’ tightened payment terms. 

One factor working in Bed Bath’s favor is that it works with a vast number of vendors, and if needed, could replace one that wouldn’t ship to the retailer. Retailers like Toys “R” Us, as well as sporting goods chain Sports Authority – which liquidated as part of a bankruptcy filing in 2016 – were heavily reliant on very few suppliers to stock their shelves. 

Bed Bath already had a significant debt load prior to the new financing. The retailer has a total of nearly $1.2 billion in unsecured notes – with maturity dates spread across 2024, 2034 and 2044 – which are all trading below par, a sign of its financial distress. In recent quarters, the company said it burned through significant amounts of cash. Despite this, it pressed ahead with an aggressive stock buyback plan that added up to more than $1 billion in repurchases.

The funding announced in August is expected to provide Bed Bath some breathing room and buy it some grace from vendors. But even before the company needed a loan, it lost standing with some of its suppliers, according to the former executives. Bed Bath has tussled with big-name vendors over terms of payment, and executives grew frustrated with smaller shipments of popular products, while seeing other retailers with more of that merchandise – and sometimes exclusive versions.

During the 2020 holidays, air fryers ran low across Bed Bath’s stores. KitchenAid stand mixers, a top item on Christmas lists and wedding registries, were out of stock. The few vacuums and hair styling tools from Dyson that arrived at stores quickly got shipped to online shoppers, leaving store displays bare. Yet at Amazon, Target and Best Buy, those same products were available – and in some cases, even at buzzy promotional prices.

KitchenAid parent company Whirlpool and Dyson didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Growing troubles

Customers carry bags from Bed Bath & Beyond store on April 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Vendors and licensees, likewise, grew concerned by the pace of Bed Bath’s changes – particularly as the retailer launched its own brands of bedding, kitchen utensils and more. As some brands and manufacturers saw Bed Bath pare down orders quarter after quarter, they looked to other stores and websites. 

The uneasy relationships exacerbated Bed Bath’s supply chain woes during the first two years of the pandemic, when all retailers coped with temporarily shuttered factories, congested ports and a shortage of truck drivers. The company lost $175 million in sales during the three months ended Feb. 26 as several items that were advertised in circulars were out of stock.

Vendors, which had limited supply, had to pick and choose where to send their hot products. As sales declined sharply at Bed Bath’s namesake stores, it had a harder time getting those items – such as Dyson’s hair styling tools or Keurig’s coffee makers– that were available at retail rivals, according to the former executives.

At company meetings, Bed Bath’s small shipments became a frequent theme – with merchandising leaders urging buyers to go to vendors and ask for more. There were also internal concerns that Bed Bath & Beyond was losing its clout and its relevance, the former executives said. 

Bed Bath’s troubles have grown in recent months. Its stock has fallen about 50% this year, its market cap now at about $565 million.

About 60% of total net sales come from Bed Bath’s stores, but its footprint is shrinking. Last week, the company announced the first wave of approximately 150 store closures of its namesake brand. Including Harmon and BuyBuy Baby stores, the company went from nearly 1,500 stores at the end of the first quarter in 2020 to fewer than 1,000 stores at the end of the same period this year. As of February, Bed Bath had roughly 32,000 associates, including approximately 26,000 store associates and about 3,500 supply chain associates. 

Meanwhile, the first wave of holiday merchandise has arrived at stores, including autumn wreaths, pumpkin-print kitchen towels and other fall-themed decor. Much of the merchandise at stores is from Bed Bath & Beyond’s private brands, such as budget-friendly home line Simply Essential.

During a CNBC visit in recent days, Bed Bath’s flagship store in New York City was full of clues that the retailer may not have enough of the hottest items. A Dyson display had six vacuum models – but only one type available for purchase. A display for French cookware company Le Creuset showed off Dutch ovens in many colors, but only had bright orange ones in stock. 

Only one stainless-steel, step-on SimpleHuman garbage can, which retails for $149.99, was boxed and ready to be carried away. However, there were small plastic garbage cans from Bed Bath’s owned brand, spread across multiple rows – selling for $3 each.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

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GM to close reservations for electric Hummer pickup, SUV after topping 90,000

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Production is now set to begin at the former Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, less than two years after GM announced the massive $2.2 billion investment to fully renovate the facility to build a variety of all-electric trucks and SUVs.

Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors

DETROIT — General Motors will close reservations for its electric GMC Hummer pickup and the forthcoming GMC Hummer SUV after more than 90,000 of the vehicles were reserved, the company said Wednesday.

Closing the reservations is a way for the automaker to attempt to fulfill the current list of reserved vehicles, which extends out to at least 2024. The number of reservations is notable because of the starting prices of the vehicles, which range between roughly $85,000 and $111,000.

GM said it plans to close reservations for both vehicles starting Thursday. Anyone wanting to reserve one of the electric trucks must do so by the end of Wednesday.

GM has been slowly ramping up production of the Hummer EV pickup since earlier this year. As of the end of June, the company had sold less than 400 of the vehicles. The SUV version is expected to begin arriving to dealers and customers starting in early 2023.

The 2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV and 2022 GMC Hummer EV sport utility truck, or SUT.

GM

Duncan Aldred, global head of GMC, said production of the SUV should happen more quickly than the pickup, which was the first consumer vehicle to feature GM’s next-generation Ultium batteries and vehicle platform.

“We knew it would be a slow ramp. But next year, when you look at the calendar year, I think you’ll see a normalized year,” he told CNBC last week at the Detroit auto show. “When we produce SUV, that should get into stride right away … Next year is a big year for Hummer EV, both truck and SUV.”

GM’s decision follows Ford Motor shutting down reservations for its electric F-150 Lightning pickup after hitting roughly 200,000 units. It also had shut down reservations for the electric Mustang Mach-E crossover, but they have since reopened.

General Motors just unveiled its first all-electric Hummer—the GMC Hummer EV
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