The electric vehicle maker’s November sales plunged 63% as its latest model, the G9, has posted weak sales since its September launch

Key Takeaways

•      Xpeng’s sales rose just 19% in the third quarter to 6.82 billion yuan, but its loss ballooned by a much larger 49% to 2.38 billion yuan

•      The company’s vehicles suffer from poor positioning between the premium market and more mainstream models, analysts say

By Jose Qian

The year may be nearly over, but you would never know by looking at electric car maker Xpeng Inc.’s (XPEV.US, 9868.HK) progress so far compared with its sales target at the start of the 2022. The company shocked markets earlier this month when it reported it delivered only 5,811 vehicles in November, a 63% plunge from a year earlier.

Xpeng once expected to deliver up to 21,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter. But after selling just 5,101 cars in October, also down a steep 40% from a year earlier, the fourth-quarter target looks nearly impossible. And having delivered just 109,465 vehicles so far this year, the company’s target of selling 250,000 vehicles for the year looks all but impossible as well.

Xpeng’s completion of just 44% of its annual target with just one month left in the year is the lowest fulfillment rate among Chinese electric vehicle (EV) makers. But the company is hardly alone, with most of its peers also well behind their targets set at the start of this year when China’s new energy vehicle market was humming ahead full throttle.

Among China’s major brands, only BYD (1211.HK; 002594.SZ), Hozon Auto and GAC Aion reached over 70% of their annual sales targets in the first three quarters of this year. The U.S.- and Hong Kong-listed Nio (NIO.US; 9866.HK) and Li Auto (LI.US; 2015.HK) achieved less than 60%.

Xpeng is getting squeezed as one of the smaller in a crowded field of young EV makers that are seeing their sales slow rapidly after more than a year of turbocharged growth. At least some of the slowdown is coming as China gets set to end some of the many subsidies that had helped to propel the market. The country’s broader slowing economy isn’t helping either.

“Frankly, we are going through a very challenging period in pursuing our long-term goals,” said He Xiaopeng, the company’s CEO, on its earnings conference call.

Xpeng’s difficult position is reflected in its price/sales (P/S) ratio, which remains relatively low versus its peers at around 2.5. By comparison, Nio currently trades at well above 3 times, while Li Auto is above 4. Tesla (TSLA.US), which also relies heavily on the China market, trades at a stratospheric 9, even after a nearly 50% decline for its stock over the last year.

The biggest challenge facing all the Chinese startups is how to turn losses into profits. That problem is especially acute for Xpeng. The company posted revenue of 6.82 billion yuan ($980 million) in the third quarter, a year-on-year increase of 19.3%, according to its latest quarterly results released Nov. 30. But its net loss widened by a far larger 49% to 2.38 billion yuan.

“They’re in an increasingly competitive market and are getting squeezed in their current market position,” said Bill Russo, founder and CEO of Shanghai-based consulting firm Automobility. He added that Xpeng also faces bigger cost pressures than its competitors due to its relative lack of vertical integration.

Stock surge

While Xpeng’s third quarter report hardly looked encouraging, you would never know that based on investor reaction. Xpeng’s stock soared 47% the day of the announcement, adding $3 billion to its market value. The stock has maintained all of those gains since then, amid a broader rally that has seen the broader Hang Seng China Enterprises Index rise 18% since the end of November.

But the rapid gains for Xpeng’s stock have come after a long period of suffering. Before the Nov. 30 rally, Xpeng’s shares had lost 76% of their value since July 1. And even after the rally they are still down by a similar amount year to date. Nio and Li Auto aren’t doing much better, down 57% and 28%, respectively, since the start of the year.

In order to boost sales, Xpeng has launched a limited-time price guarantee policy, effectively meaning that consumers who complete orders with deposit payments before the end of 2022 will continue to enjoy EV subsidies set to expire at the end of this year.

The entire group of EV makers is taking a hit from rising raw material price, combined with the continuous need for big R&D and marketing spending. Xpeng has spent over 20 billion yuan alone on R&D and marketing since 2020.

As costs climb and sales slow, consolidation in the industry will inevitably accelerate, said Wang Dan, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank. “EV makers with the best technology and the most cash will survive and expand, similar to what happened in the solar industry five years ago,” she said. “We will see more Chinese EV carmakers exiting the industry.”

Xpeng needs to sell more cars to boost its chances of emerging from the consolidation intact. But the reality isn’t great. The company’s previously popular P7 model is no longer a leader, and sales have been mediocre so far for its G9 model, launched in September, with only 2,353 units sold by the end of November.

“They entered with low premium pricing but there’s a lot of competition there,” said Russo. “And their … products are not standouts in their segment. So, to the premium customers, they are not premium enough, and to the middle market customers, they’re too expensive.”

By comparison, Nio and Li Auto are more clearly focused on the high-end of the market and SUVs for home use, respectively. Xpeng, with a focus on intelligent and self-driving technology, is stuck somewhere in the middle, with products costing from 150,000 yuan to 470,000 yuan, essentially competing with every other EV brand in the Chinese market, Russo said.

As the market slows and Xpeng feels the squeeze, the company will focus on controlling its costs, improving operational efficiency, and streamlining investment projects, CEO He said on the investor call.

He added the company’s current cash of 40 billion yuan is sufficient to support it for now. Its fixed asset costs are expected to be less than 3 billion yuan next year, and capital expenditure in the following years is expected to drop significantly compared with 2022. That should help to improve the company’s cash flow situation, He said.

Xpeng has announced that it will launch three new products in the first quarter of 2023, including a medium-sized SUV priced in the 200,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan range. The company expressed confidence that it will return to a stronger growth track next year, saying it expects to achieve a significant increase in sales volume and average selling prices, as well as revenue growth higher than the industry average.

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