Are EV startups crashing?

Bernardo Montes de Oca

From the outside looking in, the EV industry is booming. There's a prediction that the EV fleet in the United States will reach 48 million vehicles by 2030. With new regulations demanding that in the coming years countries make it easier for people to own electric vehicles, the future seems electric!  But for startups in this sector, the story is completely different, and nobody would've predicted this a couple of years ago. 

Thanks to pseudovisionaries, and the occasional successful endeavor, we've envisioned the EV realm as a symphony of innovation. Ambition once resonated as daring startups joined the electrifying chorus of sustainable transportation. Elon Musk helped put Tesla on the map by launching one into space and setting a precedent. Many aspired to be like the massively successful company. Plus, at the same time, there’s pressure to change to greener solutions, so there was a lot of hype behind EV startups.

In 2016, investors dished out an estimated $2.2 billion in EV startups. In the third quarter of 2022 alone, venture capitalists invested $5.5 billion into the sector, marking massive growth in an industry with high hopes. So, it might seem strange that there's a dark side to this. As the curtain of huge investment falls, the truth emerges: we might be at the precipice of an EV startup crash. 

From the heart of Silicon Valley to the bustling streets of Europe, these bold pioneers embarked on a journey to carve their niche in the burgeoning EV market. Armed with cutting-edge technology and audacious visions, they aimed to challenge the status quo and displace traditional combustion engines. However, as the industry matured, cracks in the foundation began to appear, revealing challenges that strike at the very essence of electric vehicles. 

There's a long-held belief that creating an electric vehicle is easier than an internal combustion one. After all, from a mechanical point of view, the fewer the parts, the simpler they should be. This has sparked a proliferation of EV startups all over the world. 

In India, for example, around 43 EV startups are fighting to take a bite out of a market share that already has more than twenty established EV companies, some of which are massive, such as Mahindra Electric. The fact that there are so many of these companies means that there are more of them commercially available. As more and more of them enter the market, startups and established companies must compete and win at all costs. 

Even big names, such as Ford and Tesla, have had to cut costs, reduce vehicle prices, and even face losses in the billions. It's an ultra-competitive market. Though it's a comparison not everyone enjoys, think of this as the cellphone market on wheels. Too many options for it to be worth paying extra. 

Plus, the excess in offer brings forth another problem: quality. One startup, in particular, has earned the noticeably bad reputation of making the worst EV in the world. VinFast released the VF8 in 2023, becoming the first Vietnamese vehicle approved for sale in the United States. Though it has good looks and promising aesthetics, once the car hit the open road, problems began. The ride was bad, littered with low-quality interior materials and build quality issues. To make matters worse, uncomfortable seats and excessive road noise were added to the list of grievances. The electronics, including driver-assistance functions, also proved glitchy and unreliable, casting doubts on the vehicle's overall reliability. The media loved the story and thrashed the brand so much that the company had to resort to creative refunds. An excess in supply is one of many problems.

The heart of every EV lies in its battery, and developing affordable, high-performing batteries has proven to be an uphill battle. The cost of battery technology and range anxiety concerns have presented a formidable barrier for startups attempting to compete with established players. They who hold the key to long battery life hold the key to success, and in the case of EVs, 30% of batteries come from one company in China. At the same time, China controls 70% of the cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Therefore, the sustainability of these materials hangs by a thread.

These factors and an overall funding winter have caused money to dry up. The days of having millions in investments are long gone. The problem is that this situation comes right when many of these startups aim at mass production. This road requires investments, but EV startups can do little if their vehicles aren't performing. As investors become more discerning, securing funds for unproven ventures in an increasingly competitive market has become daunting.

Such is the case of Rivian. In 2021, the company promised to build one of the biggest EV factories in the US. The investment, totaling $5 billion, would be Georgia's single-largest economic development project. Fast forward to now, and the company has yet to produce its vehicles at a constant pace. Rivian has a waitlist of 50,000 vehicles and failed to keep up with its goal of 1,200 units in one year. The company's stock dropped 80% in value, and the story is similar to other EV startups that must prove that they can grow but have yet to dominate the many factors to do so. 

There's no way that so many EV companies can survive. Like many other areas witnessing a revolution, only a few will survive. Unfortunately, among those that have failed, there were some fascinating examples

As the EV startup crash unfolds, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges while recognizing the immense potential for change. Although the journey ahead may be bumpy, the road to redemption is paved with lessons learned and resilience honed. Collaboration between startups, established players, governments, and investors must be nurtured to overcome the barriers that loom large. Only through a united effort can the EV ecosystem thrive and pave the way for a sustainable, electrified future.

The EV startup crash may serve as a cautionary tale, reminding us that the road to revolutionizing an industry is seldom smooth. Yet, it also offers a glimmer of inspiration, for within the struggles lie the seeds of progress. As we navigate the twists and turns of this electrifying journey, let us remember that innovation and perseverance shall light the way, propelling us toward a greener, cleaner future for generations to come.

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Bernardo Montes de Oca
Content creator in love with writing in all its forms, from scripts to short stories to investigative journalism, and about almost every topic imaginable.
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