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1 Electric Vehicle Stock to Buy Hand Over Fist and 2 to Avoid Like the Plague

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Electric vehicles (EVs) could account for roughly half of all auto sales by 2030, but not every EV stock will be a winner.

It's not often that an entire industry is disrupted in one fell swoop, but that's precisely what's happened to the once-stodgy auto industry. The electrification of consumer vehicles and enterprise fleets, and the desire by most countries to reduce their carbon footprints and halt climate change in its tracks, mean that we're witnessing the beginning of what could be a multidecade vehicle replacement cycle.

According to a survey conducted late last year by KPMG, the average forecast of the more than 1,000 global auto leaders KPMG spoke to was for worldwide electric vehicle (EV) sales to reach roughly 50% of all autos sold by 2030.  Meanwhile, a November report from Market Research Future calls for the EV industry to hit $957 billion in market value by 2030, which is more than quadruple its value at the end of 2021. 

Although investing in EV growth looks like a no-brainer opportunity, not all stocks associated with the electrification of autos will be winners. While I believe one name can be bought hand over fist (I'll get to this company in a bit), there are two EV stocks that should be avoided like the plague.

Two all-electric Rivian R1Ts. Image source: Rivian Automotive.

The first EV stock to avoid: Rivian Automotive

On the surface, Rivian Automotive (RIVN 1.42%), which was one of 2021's hottest initial public offerings (IPOs), looks like it has the tools to be successful. The company will offer three differentiated vehicles -- the R1T pickup truck, the R1S SUV, and the EDV electric van -- with planned annual capacity ranging from 200,000 vehicles at its Illinois factory to 400,000 at its Georgia plant. The latter is an estimated figure, with Rivian spending a cool $5 billion to build the factory. Production is anticipated to begin by 2024. 

Rivian also has an order for 100,000 EDVs from Amazon, which it received in 2019. The sheer size of this order has validated Rivian as a player of interest in the EV space for years.

But the flipside to Rivian is that it's still very wet behind the ears. The company produced only 1,015 EVs in 2021 and had its IPO with no trailing-12-month sales. It missed an already low production bar for 2021, and will likely deal with the same supply chain constraints affecting the entire industry. In other words, Rivian's trajectory is bound to hit numerous speed bumps and potholes. It's par for the course when building an EV company from the ground up.

Making matters worse, Rivian finds itself in hot water with the public after announcing, then walking back (for those who ordered before March 1), a price hike of $12,000 on its quad-motor models. Higher material costs are forcing automakers to boost prices. While Rivian was simply following the pack, a $12,000 price hike on vehicles that already cost $70,000 (or more) didn't sit well with customers. If Rivian isn't careful, it could price customers out of buying its vehicles.

While Rivian could eventually grow into an investment-worthy company in the EV space, it has little business being valued at $45 billion.

The all-electric Nikola Badger got the ax before it even rolled off the production line. Image source: Nikola.

The second EV stock to avoid: Nikola

Well before Rivian was the hottest thing in the EV space, Nikola (NKLA -1.81%) was making waves. It was one of many companies that went public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). On June 9, 2020, Nikola hit an intraday high of nearly $94 a share. Unfortunately, those same shares were trading hands for $7 and change as of March 3, 2022.

The initial buzz for Nikola had to do with its introduction of the Badger in February 2020. The Badger was to be a battery EV (BEV) or fuel-cell EV (FCEV) pickup truck with an estimated 600-mile range and a reasonably low $60,000 price tag. When coupled with Nikola's ambitions to also build BEV and FCEV semi trucks, Wall Street was enamored, at least initially, with the company's potential. Then the proverbial wheels fell off.

Over the course of the next year and a half, the Badger would be shelved before it even rolled off the production line. This was due, in part, to Nikola being unable to land a manufacturing partner for the truck. Though it looked as if General Motors would step up and be that partner, an eventual agreement between the two companies didn't include the Badger. 

Worse yet, a handful of allegations of wrongdoing levied by short-side firm Hindenburg Research against Nikola proved to be true. An independent review found that pre-order figures were exaggerated. This resulted in a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission, leading to former CEO Trevor Milton being indicted on three counts of fraud this past July. 

Today, Nikola is only just beginning to deliver its first BEV semi trucks. Even though it's received a couple of letter-of-intent orders during the fourth quarter for its semi trucks, it's not clear if the company has the capital necessary to ramp up production and ward off significant quarterly losses. When coupled with its damaged reputation, Nikola becomes an easy pass for investors.

The newly introduced Nio ET7 EV sedan. Image source: Nio.

The EV stock to buy hand over fist: Nio

On the other end of the spectrum is Nio (NIO 4.95%), which checks all the appropriate boxes and can be bought hand over fist following its recent pullback.

I'll freely admit that, a little over a year ago, I had Nio in the same camp as Nikola -- i.e., Avoid! Avoid! Avoid! At one point, Nio's valuation topped $90 billion with the company pacing for only around 20,000 EVs in production annually. Its valuation just didn't make any sense.

However, management has really impressed with its ability to boost production in a challenging environment. Though the Chinese New Year held back production in February, and supply chain issues curbed output in January, Nio managed to top 10,000 deliveries in both November and December. Management has offered guidance suggesting that the company can hit 50,000 deliveries monthly by the end of the year. This would work out to an annual run-rate of around 600,000 EVs.

Fueling this production surge is Nio's existing line of EVs, as well as the introduction of three new vehicles. Until now, the company's premium SUVs (the ES8 and ES6) and crossover EV (the ES6) have received plenty of interest. But the next wave of growth will come from the deliveries of the ET7 and ET5, which are EV sedans that take direct aim at Tesla's Model S and Model 3, respectively. With the top-tier battery option, Nio claims an estimated range of approximately 621 miles for its sedans.

Furthermore, the battery-as-a-service (BaaS) program that was unveiled in August 2020 by management is pure genius. For buyers, BaaS lowers the initial purchase price of their vehicle and gives them the option to charge, swap, or upgrade their batteries at a later date. For Nio, it trades lower-margin near-term sales for high-margin fee-based revenue (buyers pay a monthly fee for the BaaS program) that keeps buyers loyal to the brand.

And did I mention Nio is based in China, the world's largest auto market? The EV industry is still nascent in China, meaning market share is up for grabs.

With Nio expected to turn the corner to recurring profitability next year, and the company valued at just seven times Wall Street's forecast earnings per share in 2024, it looks like a screaming buy.

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