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Dyson becomes the last sign of electric bubble bursting

Kyunghee Park, Molly Schuetz and Yoolim Lee, Bloomberg News
Published 9:33 p.m. ET October 13, 2019

Dyson Ltd.'s sudden decision to scrape its $ 2.5 billion electric vehicle ambitions is the latest reality check that creeps into the once-powerful EV industry.

The famous manufacturer of vacuum cleaners and hairdryers couldn't find a way to make the project commercially viable, billionaire James Dyson said in a letter to staff Thursday. The announcement came about two years after the company revealed plans to jump into car production.

Dyson represents one of the highest profile players to pull out of a sector that has attracted hundreds of startups in recent years the years looking to become the next Tesla Inc. But there are mounting signs that the bubble is bursting as China scales feedback in the sector and competition heats up. Sanford C. Bernstein estimates that global EV sales fell for the first time ever in July, falling by a record 23% in August.

“Tesla's future is still uncertain. Almost all EV startups trying to follow look challenged, ”Bernstein analysts, including Max Warburton and Robin Zhu, said in a report that cited the Dyson decision as a worrying development in the industry. "Most of these startups are likely to collapse. The truth is that barriers to entry into cars are still high. Making cars is difficult. Moving to EV will be expensive."

Take the case of China's NIO Inc., one of the most prominent electric car manufacturers in a country that makes about half of the world's EVs. Last month it reported a larger quarterly loss than expected, leading to the stock falling to a record low and asking analysts to openly question the company's viability. Tuesday after NIO reported third-quarter deliveries exceeded the company's forecast, but the stock has since erased all those gains.

Elsewhere in China, Lifan Industry Group Co. and Zotye Automobile Co. have denied speculation they plan to file for bankruptcy, but the former admitted that it is under liquidity pressure.

The competition is also getting tougher. In addition to Tesla, traditional car manufacturers are m General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG huge resources on electrification. VW has pledged $ 33 billion to bring battery-powered cars to the masses. Apple Inc. has had a car project since about 2016, although it is said to have scaled back its ambitions.

There is growing concern that the good supply of cheap financing for new age car makers is drying up, according to Bernstein.

As for Dyson, the company said it plans to continue its $ 3.1 billion investment program in new technology and will focus on manufacturing solid-state batteries and other technologies, including machine learning and robotics.

"Singapore will play an important role in Dyson's growth plans," Tan Kong Hwee, assistant chief executive of Singapore's Economic Development Board, said in an email Friday. Despite Dyson's decision, Singapore is "still interested in advanced manufacturing, including EVs," he said.

Experts had questioned the company's costly plans to build an electric car factory in Singapore, where average wages are among the highest in the world. Ford Motor Co. closed its factory in the city state about 40 years ago, effectively ending car production on the island.

"If everyone else is building a plant in China at a fraction of the cost of labor, it wouldn't make much sense for anyone to build that size of a production plant over there," said Steve Man, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Hong Kong.

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