Motoring is changing faster than you think. Before too long even relatively inexpensive cars will be exhilarating, futuristic and eerily quiet.
The 2021 BMW i4 is a brilliant start: A total revamp of what the Bavarian automaker has been doing with electric vehicles. It is sleek, sporty and sublimely fast.
It is also the future of cars, with big implications for investors.
In many ways the BMW i4 is emblematic of Germany waking up to Tesla (TSLA) . The Silicon Valley company is eating the lunch of its Deutschland rivals in the luxury car market. CNN Business reported October 4, the Tesla Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the United States. By a lot.
The baby Model S was supposed to be a mass market vehicle. In theory, its $35,000 sticker price would attract suburbanites looking for a second car, and the EV-curious. But the company has produced no cars at that price point. Its gaudy 400,000-unit waiting list meant Tesla could pick and choose what vehicles it wanted to make first. No surprises. It chose to make the most expensive, spec'd out versions.
The company sold 55,840 Model 3s in the third quarter at an average selling price of $59,000.
As a point of reference, the next best-selling luxury car in the U.S. is the Audi Q5. The gas-guzzling SUV sold 21,000 units in the third quarter. Model 3s are outselling Cadillacs and Buicks, Acuras, Lincolns and Lexus', BMWs and Mercedes.
What Tesla got right was making an electric vehicle without compromises. Yes, the cars are environmentally friendly, but they are also incredibly quick and fun to drive. Elon Musk, chief executive officer, says he wanted to build cars that made people happy. He succeeded. Tesla ranks first in customer satisfaction, according to a survey from Consumer Reports.
And with the Model 3's fantastic acceleration, and minimalist interior, the car feels like something from the future.
Prior to Teslas, EVs were sensible, but under-powered. The Toyota Prius and BMW's i3 are vehicles built to appeal to hard-core conservationists, and they show it. They are all utility and no fun.
German carmakers are learning the lesson of Tesla's success. They are now building vehicles without compromises, and more in tune with their history of performance.
Visually, the i4 is a stunner. Its big double kidney grille and muscular lines harken back to the glory days of BMW performance coupes. Low and sleek, it looks fast standing still. The company will pack an electric motor on each axle. Executives promise the car will redefine what is possible today in terms of acceleration. Considering that Teslas can scream to 60 mph in two seconds, the i4 should be plenty fast.
Investors tend to view EVs as a niche market. They are missing the point. As battery prices drop, most vehicles are headed toward electric propulsion, and soon. EVs are more efficient than internal combustion engines, easier to service, offer better performance and ultimately are more fun to drive.
Ford (F) and Volkswagen announced Oct. 31 they were in exploratory talks to jointly develop EVs. The companies are already working together with BMW and Mercedes to develop a network of European fast charging stations. In September, Volkswagen launched an electric car platform and promised to make 10 million EVs by 2025.
Volvo plans to electrify all of its vehicles by 2019, according to Business Insider. Jaguar's I-Pace electric SUV is available now, and winning rave reviews. Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and Cadillac will offer speedy EVs within the next 2 years.
One of the best way for investors to play this big trend is Livent Corp. (LTHM) . The business is a recent spin off from FMC Corp. (FMC) , a diversified chemicals company. Livent has become a leading producer and manufacturer of lithium, a critical component in batteries used for EVs, consumer electronics and energy storage solutions.
Prior to the Livent IPO last month, FMC Corp. had been investing aggressively to increase lithium production. The business had sales of $108 million in the fiscal second quarter, an increase of 46% year-over-year. The company forecast full year 2018 sales of $430 - $460 million. In fiscal 2017, the unit had sales of $347.4 million.
The market capitalization is currently only $2.3 billion. Long-term investors should consider buying Livent into any near term weakness.
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