A123 Systems (Nasdaq: AONE ) has to be wondering if electric cars are going to live up to the hope or if it has been betting on the auto industry's version of the delay-plagued 787 Dreamliner.
A123 is the biggest of the "pure-play" battery makers by market cap and has made some of the industry's flashiest signings with automakers. BMW, Fisker Automotive, and even Formula 1 vehicles have chosen A123's product, but headlines have yet to lead to the financial gains we've started to see at other battery manufacturers. Valence Technology (Nasdaq: VLNC ) has had success in the commercial fleet market and Ener1 (NYSE: HEV ) is seeing growth in electric grid projects, with both dramatically outpacing year-over-year growth at A123.
Third-quarter revenues came in at $26.2 million, just 11% higher than last year and well below the more than 100% gains of competitors. Net loss in the quarter increased to $43.7 million, or $0.42 per share, due to low capacity utilization and production ramping costs. It wasn't exactly the financial performance investors expected, causing a 10%-plus drop in shares today.
As competitors start to see financial performance turn a corner, A123 is waiting on auto manufacturers to pick up production, and now sees the second quarter of 2011 as an inflection point. But do we really trust projections of developers that have let us down again and again? New products are complex and filled with delays, as any product developer knows. That's why I'm taking a page from Jerry Maguire's book and saying "show me the money" to the electric vehicle and battery business. A123 isn't passing the test yet.
A123 anticipates being EBITDA breakeven at $100 million in revenue per quarter, so we need to see revenue quadruple from this quarter to get there. It's a long road, but if any battery manufacturer has the cash to handle a delay, A123 is it. The company still has over $300 million in cash, enough to weather the storm for a while, I just hope investors aren't betting on the wrong horse relying on A123's auto partners.