Why EV startups should’ve hit the brakes before merging with a SPAC

The blank-check boom that made real many electric vehicle manufacturers’ dreams of going public may be nearing a close.

One such company, Faraday Future, is even in danger of being delisted, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last week.

Faraday Future, Lordstown Motors, Lucid Motors, Nikola and Canoo — nearly all the EV manufacturers that took a shortcut to an IPO by merging with a publicly traded shell company — have faced SEC scrutiny, sending their once sky-high valuations tumbling.

Faraday makes for a cautionary tale. The beleaguered seven-year-old EV company, which has yet to launch a vehicle, went public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in July last year.

However, just months later, a report from activist short-seller J Capital led to an internal investigation that resulted in pay cuts for its top two executives and the dismissal of others. Hindenburg Research, a New York-based investment firm, is another company that has sounded alarm bells for several other EV makers that took the SPAC route.

Chief among the investigation’s findings was Faraday had misled investors when it said it had received more than 14,000 deposits for its long-awaited FF 91 vehicle. In fact, many of those reservations were actually unpaid, passive indicators of interest.

When you fail to live up to your projections, you really get hammered. That’s when investors start filing lawsuits. John Loehr, managing director of automotive and industrial, AlixPartners

Last week, after the SEC subpoenaed several executives suspected of making other false claims, Faraday said the investigation could delay the filing of its 2021 annual report. Nasdaq said failure to comply with those guidelines puts the company in danger of being delisted from the stock exchange.

When boom goes bust

Over the past couple of years, a bevy of new EV companies — including startups yet to generate revenue or launch a commercial product — merged with SPACs to raise money to reimagine transportation and fulfill their visions of an electrified future. But analysts say that these once-promising businesses could soon be sold for parts — or fold altogether.

“Automotive manufacturing is not a business that’s friendly to new entrants,” said John Loehr, a managing director in the automotive and industrial practice at consulting firm AlixPartners. “You need significant production volumes to make money.”