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The Electric Car IPO That Ran out of Juice

Shares of electric truck maker Smith Electric Vehicles was supposed to begin its publicly traded life today, but the IPO has run out of gas.

The company suspended its debut, withdrawing its registration statement last night after failing to get enough buyers at its desired pricing.

"We received significant interest from potential investors, however, we were unable to complete a transaction at a valuation or size that would be in the best interests of our company and its existing shareholders," CEO Bryan Hansel said in the company's statement. "We have instead elected to pursue private financing opportunities to support the execution of our business plan."


To be fair, the maker of all-electric commercial vehicles wasn't exactly diving into a red-hot market. Outside of Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) -- drawing a long waiting list for its Model S sedan, in part because of light production -- there haven't been too many success stories in this once-promising niche.

  • General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) had to temporarily halt production of the Chevy Volt this month -- again -- despite an uptick in sales fueled by Californians allowing solo drivers of electric cars to use the carpool lane.
  • Ford (NYSE: F  ) jumped into the fray earlier this year with an electric model of its popular Ford Focus. The automaker had only sold 177 units through August.
  • Nissan (NASDAQOTH: NSANY.PK) continues to see Leaf sales sputter. Just 685 of the petite all-electric cars sold last month, half as many as Nissan sold in August of last year. Sales so far this year are off by nearly 32%.

None of these passenger car developments technically matter for Smith Electric. It sells trucks to fleet operators with predictable routes that can return the vehicles to docks after 120 miles of electric power. A closer match would be Westport Innovations (Nasdaq: WPRT  ) , the fast-growing company that makes fuel systems for vehicles to run on cheaper and cleaner liquefied natural gas.

Commercial fleet operators are more rational and less emotional in their purchasing decisions. If gas prices are heading up -- as they have this summer -- going electric makes even more sense.

However, investors tend to lump electric vehicle makers in the same pot, and they're just not buying it.

Smith Electric was only looking to sell less than 4.5 million shares at a price in the high teens, but apparently the demand at those valuations just wasn't there.

It doesn't help that Smith Electric was losing money on widening deficits. Revenue was also down this year after a 40% pop last year. Was it apathy for the electric vehicle niche or the company's own fundamentals that put the IPO up on blocks?

It was probably a little bit of both, but this story doesn't end here. Smith Electric will live to charge another day.

Hit the road
There's obviously more to Ford than its fledgling Ford Focus Electric. Ford has been performing incredibly well as a company over the past few years -- it's making good vehicles, is consistently profitable, recently reinstated its dividend, and has done a remarkable job paying down its debt. But Ford's stock seems stuck in neutral. Does this create an incredible buying opportunity, or are there hidden risks with the stock that investors need to know about? To answer that, one of our top equity analysts has compiled a premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether Ford is a buy right now, and why. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors, Ford Motor, and Westport Innovations. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Westport Innovations, Ford Motor, Tesla Motors, and General Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in Ford Motor. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Ford. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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  • Report this Comment On September 21, 2012, at 11:10 AM, SHogge wrote:

    The reason the juice is running out is that the cars are priced way above what normal people can afford. Who can afford cars that are $30,000 plus? Not a lot of us.

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Rick Munarriz

Rick has been writing for Motley Fool since 1995 where he's a Consumer and Tech Stocks Specialist. Yes, that's a long time. He's been an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and a portfolio lead analyst for Motley Fool Supernova since each newsletter service's inception. He earned his BBA and MBA from the University of Miami, and he now lives a block from his alma mater.

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