Electric-Vehicle Tax-Credit Proposal Slows Tesla, Detroit -- Update

By Adrienne Roberts Features Dow Jones Newswires

The clock appears to be ticking on the $7,500 tax credit given to electric-vehicle buyers, casting a cloud over plans by domestic auto makers to invest billions into electric-vehicle development.

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The move, signaled Thursday as part of a broader House Republican tax plan, will likely crimp sales of battery-powered cars while such vehicles cost far more than conventional cars to produce. Shares of the two biggest U.S. auto makers in terms of sales -- General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. -- slipped modestly even as the broader market posted gains.

Shares of Tesla Inc. rallied late Friday after trading down earlier. Tesla, which sells only electric vehicles, closed at $306.09 on the Nasdaq, far below the $319.18 price that the car maker started the week at. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV -- an auto maker far less bullish on electrics, also finished in positive territory.

Neither GM nor Ford rely heavily on electric cars for overall sales, but both have signaled plans to substantially increase battery-powered offerings in coming years. In a note Friday, Evercore said the change in legislation could hit GM hard because it would be reliant on the credits to offer its new Chevrolet Bolt for quite some time at cut-rate lease prices.

"Will GM have to offer a further $7,500 to keep volumes at today's levels?" the firm wrote. GM sold 17,083 Chevrolet Bolt electric cars through October.

Nissan Motor Co., another auto maker that has been offering electric vehicles, sold 10,953 Leaf electric cars this year through October. It is in the midst of launching an updated version of the car that can achieve increased range on a single charge.

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"We believe price (as well as unappealing product, though the two are interlinked) is the main inhibitor for electric vehicle sales over the next three to five years," Evercore said.

In a statement issued Thursday, GM said "tax credits are an important customer benefit that can help accelerate the acceptance of electric vehicles," and it intends to work with congressional leaders to maintain the incentive.

Electric vehicles are already a tough sell to U.S. consumers because gas prices are low, and the tax credit was seen as a way to lure customers to buy electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles that are more expensive than their gasoline-powered counterparts. Electric cars aren't seen being cost-competitive with conventional cars until the middle of the next decade, according to analysts.

Tesla, selling three electric models, could also be hit. The Silicon Valley company was already under severe pressure following the report of its worst quarterly financial losses earlier this week.

Tesla has also faced heat because of hiccups related to production of its new Model 3 sedan, an affordable electric vehicle aimed at the broader mass market. Tesla made just 250 Model 3 cars during the third quarter, missing its projection of more than 1,500.

Evercore said that while the absence of the $7,500 tax credit isn't a "make or break for the majority of Tesla's potential customers...the absence of the credit is likely to lead to some people altering their purchase decision."

Tesla had been vying for the No. 1 spot among U.S. auto makers in terms of market valuation during the summer months, but has since fallen far behind GM, which is valued at $61.5 billion. Tesla, currently valued at $49.9 billion, is now virtually even with Ford.

A Tesla spokesman declined to comment.

Write to Adrienne Roberts at Adrienne.Roberts@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 03, 2017 17:06 ET (21:06 GMT)