Electric vehicles have been around for a long time, but lacklustre investment interest has kept the industry confined to incubator status …until now.
A perfect storm of consumer demand, government sponsorship and environmental stewardship, along with urbanization of the labour pool, has laid the foundation for a paradigm shift toward the electric vehicle (EV).
Adding to the electric impulse is the combined impact of baby boomers exiting the workforce, debt-strapped millennials eschewing the traditional commute, and consumers making a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint.
There’s no question that entrepreneurs are now rushing in to capitalize, and things are coming together at the right time, but how did it reach the consciousness of Wall Street and Bay Street?
Tesla Motors has brought a lot of attention to the EV market. Fifteen years ago, two engineers, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, formed Tesla Motors to build and sell electric vehicles. As a fledgling company, they desperately needed capital to get the business off the ground. Their early investors included one of Silicon Valley’s golden boys: Elon Musk, an entrepreneur with a seemingly Midas touch.
Musk didn’t think of Tesla as an auto manufacturer; instead, he envisioned it as a transformative technology company. His rationale for backing Tesla was climatedriven.
“[Humans] are running the most dangerous experiment in history right now,” he said, “which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere … can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.”
Musk used his first-mover advantage to set the stage for the eventual end of carbon-combustion autos. Tesla’s Roadster hit the road in 2008, quickly followed by the Model S in 2012. Most recently, the Model 3 launched as an “affordable” vehicle for the average consumer.
Musk’s long-term success faces significant barriers, from manufacturing glitches to battery performance and a lack of charging-station infrastructure. Add in a serious commitment by leading automakers like Volkswagen, Audi, General Motors, Volvo and Nissan to dominate the electric vehicle industry, and Musk faces an uphill battle.
THE LONG HAUL
Last year, Musk announced his intention to build long-haul commercial trucks, predicting that his charging-station challenges will be resolved by the time his factories are up and running.
He’s not the only one with sights set on this space. In the commercial bus market, China’s BYD was a first-mover entrant along with NFI (formerly New Flyer) and a local Canadian company called GreenPower Motor Company. We think they were attracted to the generous subsidies and credits being issued by governments in places like California and Ontario.
LOCAL AND COMPETITIVE
In the meantime, it seems the auto industry has all but ignored a significant but unglamorous segment of the market — the municipal short-haul commercial space that moves goods from the warehouse to the storefront, along with courier services and sanitation removal services that seem to be an almost-untapped market.
One groundbreaking company in this space is Vancouver- Island-based Envirotech Electric Vehicles, which last fall embarked on an aggressive plan to provide short-haul, all-electric commercial vehicles for a wide range of applications.
In October, the company unveiled its line of prototype logistic vans and cutaway class 3–6 multipurpose vehicles to provincial politicians. This coincided with Premier Horgan’s CleanBC announcement, committing the Province of B.C. to be all-electric by 2040.
Envirotech will not be a first mover in this space. FedEx has ordered 1,000 vans from a partnership between Ryder and China’s Chanje. Nissan is selling all-electric vehicles in Japan and Australia, and Mercedes Benz sells its all-electric vans in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before both establish factories in North America.
Still, Envirotech’s plan to assemble customized vehicles in Nanaimo (and eventually in Victoria), right on the doorstep of the U.S. marketplace, could give them a competitive advantage; with the Province expected to expand its rebate program for all electric vehicles, the future looks hopeful.
Envirotech president and CTO David Oldridge believes the company will have significant advantages over larger competitors because its process began with a thorough analysis of customer needs, and its vehicles are designed to meet those needs. Envirotech’s vehicles feature a robust battery life, fully recyclable battery packs (with space to add more) and standard on-board J1772 chargers (standard in the U.S.). Electric power take-off systems (ePTO) mean their electric trucks do not have to be running in order to operate hydraulic equipment such as cherry-picker buckets.
Is Envirotech on the right track? According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “There are now almost 5 million passenger electric vehicles on the road globally (over 5 million including buses and other commercial vehicles). We expect another 2.6 million to be sold in 2019.”
Navigant Research says, “… global annual electrified powertrain medium- and heavyduty truck sales are expected to grow from about 31,000 vehicles in 2016 to nearly 332,000 by 2026.”
If you can get even a small slice of this massively growing pie, you are doing all right.
Steve Bokor, CFA, is a licensed portfolio manager, and Ian David Clark is a certified financial planner with Ocean Wealth at PI Financial Corp, a member of CIPF. Tesla, FedEx and Envirotech, mentioned in this article, are held by clients and advisors of PI Financial Corp.
This article is from the April/May 2019 issue of Douglas.