Let’s be real. Chinese automaker Nio (NYSE:NIO) is not the biggest nor even the best electric vehicle ( ) company or stock on the market. It ranks ninth in market share in China, third-quarter car sales disappointed, and it’s relying upon government cash infusions to keep driving forward. Yet it’s not a complete disaster either. While I wouldn’t be backing up the truck here, a NIO stock analysis indicates risk-tolerant investors should keep an open mind.
Nio’s sales are growing, albeit at a slower-than-hoped-for pace. It also has an innovative battery swap business that could be valuable, even as a spun-off stand-alone operation. And Nio is likely not going to be allowed to go under so it has a base of support.
Yet investors need that reality check too. EV competition is fierce in China and Nio is bringing up the rear. Industry price cuts are becoming the norm and that will hurt Nio’s profitability. Last, even in China, the rate of sales growth is slowing. So let’s take a closer look at why adventurous investors might want to nibble here.
The good news
Nio has a loyal customer base and a strong brand image in China, the world’s largest EV market. It offers premium and innovative products and services, such as the battery swapping option mentioned earlier but also autonomous driving and smart connectivity.
It just reported an 18% year-over-year increase in January deliveries with 10,055 EVs going out the door. Nio delivered over 160,000 vehicles in 2023 and cumulatively hit almost 460,000 deliveries total. It also opened its battery swap business to the entire industry and signed strategic agreements with JAC Group agreed to help build out a swapping network, Chery Automobile, Changan Automobile, and Geely (OTCMKTS:GELYF).
Nio is also working to improve its financial performance and operational efficiency. While it has achieved positive gross margins and vehicle margins for several quarters now, those slipped year over year due to competition and price cutting.
The EV maker is expected to increase its production capacity, expand its product portfolio, and enter new markets such as Europe.
The bad news
Nio remains unprofitable at a time when competition from other EV makers is fierce. Both Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and Byd (OTCMKTS:BDDYF) are battling for the dominant position in China. Also, as mentioned earlier, the EV stock relies on government subsidies and incentives for a lifeline, which may change or diminish over time. However, it did get a cash infusion from the United Arab Emirates sovereign investment fund CYVN Holdings for $2.2 billion. Last summer it also received $1 billion from the fund.
It’s also subject to geopolitical and regulatory risks. Nio was supposed to enter the U.S. market along with Europe but as trade and military tensions arose between the two, Nio postponed those plans. It still plans to enter the European market. This is an important part of my NIO stock analysis.
It recently unveiled its new ET9 “smart electric executive flagship” but that won’t be hitting the market until 2025 at the earliest. The EV maker could lose whatever momentum it has if its new models fail to catch on or EV demand falls further.
The really ugly stuff
Without government support, Nio could face a liquidity crisis or a debt default. It might have to raise more capital or generate enough cash flow to meet its obligations. Yet it carries a heavy debt load, reported debilitating losses of $2 billion in 2022, and negative free cash flow of $1.6 billion. Wall Street expects losses to balloon to as much as $2.6 billion for 2023 when Nio reports full-year results.
Nio could lose additional market share from the slowing sales environment for EVs in China and elsewhere around the world. Those 10,000 or so deliveries in January were actually a 44.5% drop from December. Li Auto (NASDAQ:LI) also reported a steep 38% drop in deliveries while Xpeng‘s (NYSE:XPEV) deliveries plummeted 59%.
At least in the U.S. market, alternatives to all-battery EVs are gaining popularity, especially hybrids. That could spread elsewhere as drivers hold onto the reliability of gas-powered vehicles. Toyota (NYSE:TM) sold 322,000 hybrids globally last year, a 30% increase.
Measure twice, cut once
So that’s why I say investors should be wary of NIO stock but not dismiss it out of hand. The Chinese EV market is unique but not so much that you can ignore reality. There is the potential for Nio to gain traction just don’t get too caught up in any one development.
That’s why a small stake in the most high-risk part of your portfolio might be worthwhile. It ensures you continue to watch the company and participate in any gains it makes. But it’s not so much that if it crashes and burns you lose a painful amount. That’s my conclusion of this NIO stock analysis.
On the date of publication, Rich Duprey did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.