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GM Volt Sales: Yellow Light for Electric Car Growth Stories

Stocks in this article: GM PPO AONE NSANY

3,876 Volts were produced in February, which if annualized would imply total Volt production in 2012 of 42,636 vehicles. This is significant growth compared with 2011, but still below GM's production target of 60,000 vehicles in 2012.

"Either monthly production will need to continue to ramp in 2012 or this production target will not be met," Stifel wrote. In addition, there is the risk of another reduction in production schedules later in 2012 if sales do not begin to catch up with production.

For Polypore specifically, Stifel says that the February ramp in Volt production could be a sign that the pressures that led to its disappointing guidance for the first quarter won't be persistent, especially as it generates sales from a more diverse set of customers.

Gordon Johnson, analyst at Axiom Capital, who initiated coverage of Polypore at sell earlier this year, took a more negative view of the Volt sales/production imbalance, writing that even amid rebounding sales the Volt story is defined by excess inventory: "With sales significantly underperforming production (GM overproduced demand in Feb. 2012 by 129%), and excess inventory already in the channel, at some point this year GM will have to lower its production targets for Chevy Volts."

"We believe that an acute revision lower to GM's production schedule lies ahead (again, this dynamic is what ultimately caused PPO to guide C1Q12 materially lower vs. Consensus as the battery maker that sells into Volt cars i.e., LG Chem is being forced to lower its production ests. which PPO has built capacity to meet," Johnson explained in a research note.

A123 Systems, which has a tentative deal with GM for a future electric car model, announced a deal on Thursday with India's Tata for electric bus batteries. A123 shares were up close to 6% on Thursday, though this comes after a very volatile period of trading for the sentiment-driven stock. A123 shares were down by 80% in 2011, have rallied this year by 18%, but in the last week came under heavy selling pressure again, down double-digits before Thursday's Tata deal.

The Tata deal is a good headline for a company that remains tied most closely to one of the laggards in the electric car space, Fisker. The Tata deal represents a revenue stream distinct from the Fisker story and in an important market, India. It's a small revenue stream, though, and in an area of electric transportation where A123 has already been an early leader. It's not a game-changer for A123, which remains much more closely linked to Fisker's fortunes.

A123 Systems has yet to announce a date to report its fourth-quarter results, and its recent earnings have been highlighted by missed targets related to Fisker delays. One more up day on Thursday for A123 shares could be quickly erased by one more negative guidance revision.

Fisker announced this week that it has hired former Chrysler president Tom LaSorda as its CEO, in a management shakeup that saw company founder Henrik Fisker give up the CEO title. The move was a sign of how severe the issues are at Fisker and with its $100,000 Karma model for which A123 is providing the battery.

The Department of Energy recently denied a loan to continue the build out of a Fisker plant in Delaware, and the Karma has consistently missed early production targets. LaSorda has been brought in to help find financing avenues after the DOE spurned the company. However, it's worth noting that embattled Fisker has brought in an auto official who knows a thing or two about bankruptcy.

-- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Eric Rosenbaum.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Eric Rosenbaum.

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