Chinese electric vehicle maker, Li Auto, continues to make significant strides in its bid to secure a major portion of the Chinese EV market. In recent months, the company has launched and unveiled new models, further improved its sales and funding position, and is building new R&D and manufacturing bases, as well as secured key safety and sustainability ratings.
Following on from its original Li ONE vehicle, Li Auto began the first deliveries of its second model, the Li L9 full size extended-range electric SUV in August. Quickly followed by its Li ONE successor, the L8, a six-seat mid to large-size SUV, in November. Showing no signs of easing momentum, deliveries for the company’s next mid to large-size five-seat L7 SUV have just begun in February.
While the full impacts of the new models are yet to be seen, Li Auto’s sales have continued to grow in 2022 with total deliveries for the first nine months of the year blitzing 2021, after surging more than 57% to almost 87,000 units. The strong sales have been backed up by a $365 million capital raise which has been key in supporting continued investment to maintain the company’s vision of long-term sustainable success.
As it attempts to carve out a distinct premium market against the Chinese EV landscape, which is saturated by comparatively cheap low-speed electric vehicles, Li Auto is bolstering its credentials with standout luxury features and safety ratings.
The company is also building a semiconductor R&D and manufacturing base in the high-tech zone of Suzhou, which will focus on the in-house research and development efforts that will be directed comprehensively across products, platforms, and systems, with the long-term goal of growing into a world-class technology company.
Since its launch in 2015, Li Auto has seen rapid growth and has established itself as a leading player in the Chinese EV market. Despite a slow commercial start for the Li ONE initially, sales for the company exploded to more than $4.25 billion in 2021.
The company’s success has been driven thanks to established partnerships with several leading technology companies, including Huawei and Baidu, to integrate cutting-edge technologies into its vehicles. This has helped to differentiate itself from its competitors and appeals to tech-savvy consumers in China.
Li Auto has also made significant investments in charging infrastructure to support the widespread adoption of EVs in China, having established partnerships with several major charging networks, including State Grid and China Southern Power Grid, to build out a comprehensive charging network across the country.
The company’s relentless focus on producing premium EVs and its investments in R&D and technology are core to positioning it well for future growth. As it maintains ambitious targets of being the number one smart electric vehicle maker in China, seeking to obtain 20% market share with sales over 1.6 million units by 2025.
While founder Li Xiang continues to oversee the company as chief executive officer and chairman of the board, former executive director and president, Shen Yanan, tendered his resignation with Li Auto in December to focus on personal affairs. Chief engineer, Donghui Ma, was subsequently promoted to company president and appointed as a director. In addition, senior vice president, Yan Xie, was also promoted as the new chief technology officer.
Ma has served as the company’s chief engineer since 2015, before which he worked as dean of the research institute at SANY Heavy Vehicle Body Co. While Xie who has been the company’s senior vice president since July 2022, previously held several senior roles with industry giants including Huawei Technologies, Alibaba Group, and Intel.
Li Auto’s growing range of new models continues to target China’s middle- and high-income consumers who are looking for premium electric SUVs with longer-range capabilities. Having positioned itself as a luxury EV brand, offering vehicles with advanced features, comfortable interiors, and multiple trim options, the company’s latest models are aiming to not only maintain the latest technology developments, but provide customers with a range of vehicle size options.
First unveiled in June 2022, the Li L9 joined the Li Auto line-up as the new flagship smart SUV for families. Like the initial Li ONE, the six-seat, full-size vehicle, offers superior space and comfort for family users. The L9 is comparable in size to the Mercedes-Benz GLS and BMW X7, but with a price tag under $70k, it is less than half the price of the flagship SUVs from the two German luxury automakers. With a total power of 330 kW, a torque of 620 Nm, and an acceleration time of just 5.3 seconds from 0-100 km/h, it provides a significant performance boost over its predecessor. All while maintaining a CLTC range of 1,315 kilometers thanks to flagship range extension and chassis systems.
In addition, a suite of high-tech features includes the company’s self-developed autonomous driving system, Li AD Max, vehicle safety measures to protect every family passenger, and an innovative five-screen, three-dimensional interactive intelligent cockpit that aims to bring a new level of driving and entertainment experience. While a forward-facing LiDAR system of 128 lasers delivers the most comprehensive performance of any other vehicle LiDAR system on the market.
Soon after the L9 unveiling, the company announced its plans for another 6-seat SUV, the Li L8, which ultimately launched in September 2022 and is considered the replacement for the original Li ONE model. While just launched in February 2023, and based on the same size footprint as the L8, the Li L7, offers the company’s first 5-seat vehicle with one of the most spacious second-row seats in its class. The new additions also deliver improved performance over the Li ONE, albeit positioned below the flagship L9, while also allowing for multiple trim levels for the first time.
Li Auto’s footprint of retail stores has also grown significantly throughout 2022, increasing from 206 locations at the end of 2021 to 296 retail stores in 123 cities across China. In addition, 320 servicing centers and Li Auto-authorized body and paint shops are now operating in 222 cities.
Li Auto’s focus on offering premium electric vehicles with advanced technology and high-end features at competitive prices has proved key to its success to date. Its combination of high-capacity batteries, powerful motors, and advanced infotainment and safety systems has helped the company to differentiate itself from other EV manufacturers in the market. It has also helped attract a growing number of discerning customers who are looking for a premium electric vehicle. Its strategic partnerships with leading automotive suppliers and technology companies, in particular, battery manufacturers, have enabled it to develop high-capacity batteries that offer longer driving ranges than its competitors.
In addition to its strong focus on product development, Li Auto has also pursued an aggressive marketing strategy, leveraging social media, and other digital platforms to reach a broad and diverse audience. The company has also invested heavily in building a robust and efficient distribution network, which has helped to ensure that its vehicles are readily available to customers throughout China, as well as provide strong after-sales maintenance and support.
While it has been reported that China’s EV market is set to lose steam in 2023 as the government phases out cash subsidies, it is important to note that Li Auto won’t be affected by this specific policy headwind in a meaningful way. This is due to the company’s entire range of vehicles exceeding the maximum sale price of RMB300,000 required to qualify for subsidies.
The macroeconomic landscape for Li Auto also appears to be improving as the easing of the zero-covid policy in China may help fuel both delivery and sales growth in the near term.
While a covid pandemic resurgence and associated supply chain interruptions have been challenging for the industry, Li Auto has continued to drive a robust financial performance throughout 2022. In the first nine months of the year, the company has already hit $4.12 million in total revenue, just short of its full-year 2021 result.
While losses have surged to $324.5 million, the result continues to be due to the scale and pace of investments in research and development, expansion of its sales network, workforce, and marketing activities. In particular, R&D costs more than doubled to $253.6 million in the third quarter, while selling, general and administrative expenses increased by almost 48% due to a growing number of staff, as well as increased rental expenses associated with the expansion of the company’s sales network.
Looking ahead, for the final quarter of 2022, the company expects deliveries of vehicles to be between 45,000 and 48,000 vehicles, continuing growth with an increase of 27.8% to 36.3%. As a result, total revenues are expected to be between $2.32 billion and $2.47 billion, representing an increase of 55.4% to 65.8% from the fourth quarter of 2021.
However, for the full 2022 year, while consensus estimates have tempered in recent months, they are still marginally higher than the company’s forecast, with total sales still expected to end the year at $6.65 billion, for an impressive increase of 55%. Then improving a further 107% and 48% in 2023 and 2024 respectively. Furthermore, while earnings per share estimates are forecasted to contract to a loss of $0.02 following 2021’s surprise earnings of $0.13 per share, 2023 and 2024 predictions have the metric surging to $0.38 and $0.84 respectively.
While the company is in its growth phase both in regard to accelerating sales, as well as the rapid expansion of its network and manufacturing capacities, there will likely be no shortage of expenditures and R&D costs. However in the competitive EV landscape, with players like Tesla, NIO, and XPeng these will be critical to keeping the company’s line-up ahead of the competition and to remain relevant.
Considering all Chinese EV makers have been forced to deal with challenges like supply chain constraints and pandemic restrictions, it is encouraging to see Li Auto post much better delivery numbers than its key peers. Notably, the Li L9, which was introduced to the market in the middle of last year, and only started deliveries at the end of August, saw shipments surpass 10,000 units already by December.
Li Auto’s combination of premium products, strategic partnerships, and aggressive marketing has positioned the company well in the highly competitive Chinese EV market. Its concerted efforts to grow the company and commit to future innovation appear to be paying off, as demand for its new models remains strong.