In a Post-WeWork IPO World, New Age Auto Startups Now at Risk
Signage is displayed at the WeWork Cos. 32nd Milestone co-working space in Gurugram, India. (Photographer: Ruhani Kaur/Bloomberg)

In a Post-WeWork IPO World, New Age Auto Startups Now at Risk


(Bloomberg) -- What could the automotive sector learn from the recent fiasco around rental-office company WeWork? A lot, according to some Sanford C. Bernstein analysts.

The collapse of WeWork’s attempted IPO is not only a warning sign for technology startups with inflated valuations -- funded by investors pouring money into unprofitable companies in search of the next Amazon or Netflix -- but, strangely, augers ill for many new companies in the auto industry.

They too have have benefited from venture capital money that swarmed into ride-hailing, autonomous driving and electric-vehicle technologies, a team of Bernstein analysts including Max Warburton and Robin Zhu wrote in a note to clients.

“It’s hard to think of an industry that’s been the target of as much venture capital spending as automotive,” the analysts wrote, noting that WeWork backer SoftBank has been the single biggest investor in “disruptive” automotive-related technology. The Japanese firm has big holdings in Uber, Ola, Grab, GM Cruise and other autonomous startups, which have all attracted billions more from other investors. “The investment going into these firms has created huge concern and crushed the valuations” of traditional carmakers, the analysts said.

The Bernstein analysts said many ride-hailing, mobility & autonomous-driving startups don’t look to have a viable, profit-generating model -- which could be an obstacle when they want to go public. “If their backers can’t exit, then at some point the supply of cheap capital will dry up,” the analysts said.

Many electric-vehicle startups have run into challenges recently, with NIO close to failure, Byton possibly being absorbed into FAW and Dyson canceling its electric car project, the analysts said. Faraday and Lucid may never even get started. “Most of these startups will likely fold,” they said, adding that only Rivian, which is backed by Amazon, may prove an exception.

“The truth is barriers to entry in autos remain high. Making cars is hard,” the analysts said, adding that the move to electric cars will be expensive and will probably be led by traditional auto companies, with far less disruption than feared.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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