Hui Ka Yan has finally revealed his plan to save China Evergrande. He wants the embattled property developer to shift its focus from real estate to manufacturing electric vehicles, but skepticism abounds.
Despite having never sold a vehicle, Hui’s aim is to turn away from Evergrande’s main business and become an EV maker within the next decade, the state-run Securities Times reported late Friday evening, citing an internal meeting held on October 22.
The proposal sent shares of his Hong Kong-listed EV unit, China Evergrande New Energy Vehicle Group, soaring as much as 17% on Monday before closing the day with a gain of 11.4%. But the company still trades at just a fraction of its peak market value of $86.7 billion that it reached in mid-April after tumbling 94% since then.
Analysts, however, have expressed their skepticism. It remains unclear whether Evergrande, now close to collapsing under $305 billion in total liabilities, has the expertise or capital to compete in China’s increasingly crowded EV field.
“Evergrande used to have a strategy of buy, buy and buy,” says John Zeng, a Shanghai-based director of China forecasting at consultancy LMC Automotive, referring to the property developer’s previous EV-related acquisitions. “Its approach was very simple and unpolished, and no one really knows how much technology it has mastered. ”
Hui currently has a net worth of $11.6 billion that is largely based on dividend payouts received over the years. He was a former steel factory worker when he first established Evergrande in 1997. Although he had no prior experience in producing EVs when he first announced his ambition to do so in 2019, he has since funneled more than $1 billion into a series of acquisitions that saw him gain control of National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (NEVS) and buy a majority stake in battery maker Shanghai CENAT New Energy. The company said its first EV model Hengchi would be delivered from its Tianjin factory early next year, according to an October 11 post published on Evergrande’s website.
But its EV unit warned less than a month ago that it was encountering a “serious shortage of funds,” according to a September 24 stock exchange filing. The company said it had “suspended paying some of its operating expenses and some suppliers have suspended supplying for projects.”
Evergrande itself warned last week that there was “no guarantee” it will be able to meet its financial obligations. The company did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
Even if Hui eventually manages to begin producing EVs, how he would sell them is another question with no clear answer, says Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight.
“Building a sales channel from scratch is very capital intensive, and Evergrande doesn’t appear to have channels of its own,” says Zhang. “Plus, its current model is a concept car that is still quite some distance away from mass manufacturing and selling.”
Justin Tang, head of Asian Research at New York-based investment and advisory group United First Partners, says the billionaire may simply be trying to boost investor confidence. Hui also pledged during the same meeting to deliver Evergrande’s unfinished properties to homebuyers, saying the company “in principle” won’t buy land over the next ten years, and would reduce the scale of its property development business “by a large margin,” according to the Securities Times report.
The company said separately via its WeChat public account that its 40 real estate projects in places including Guangzhou and Foshan are progressing “smoothly and orderly.” Last week, Evergrande narrowly avoided default by paying a $83.5 million bond coupon just before a 30-day grace period was about to expire.
But Evergrande faces more interest payments down the road, and $3.5 billion of its offshore bonds are expected to mature in March. The cash-strapped company has been struggling to raise funds through asset sales and other means, and market doubts over whether it can meet its debt obligations continue to persist.
“Where is the money coming from?” asks Tang, adding that Evergrande “doesn’t have time as a friend,” and its proposal of saving itself by making cars has “lots of questions but no real answers.”