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Volkswagen Soared Thanks to Its Electric Vehicle Push. Who's Next?

By Lou Whiteman, Rich Smith, and John Rosevear - Mar 20, 2021 at 8:00AM

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Volkswagen won't be the last stock to ride the EV wave higher.

Shares of Volkswagen (VWAGY -0.61%) shot higher last week after the German automaker laid out its plan to surpass Tesla and become the world's largest seller of electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025.

Volkswagen's plan appears doable, and that in turn appears to have caused investors to reassess assumptions that as the automotive industry transforms the dinosaurs are destined to go extinct. From the looks of it, Volkswagen is set up well to do just fine as EVs go mainstream in the years to come.

Volkswagen isn't the only legacy automaker laying the groundwork to be a survivor. Here's why three Fool.com contributors believe shares of General Motors (GM -1.99%), Ford Motor (F -2.72%), and Magna International (MGA -2.02%) have the potential to get a charge due to electrification.

Illustration of an electric vehicle parked at a charging station.

Image source: Getty Images.

One of the biggest potential EV producers is also one of the most underappreciated

Lou Whiteman (General Motors): General Motors is one of the biggest names in the automotive industry, and perhaps also currently one of the most underappreciated.

The company laid down the gauntlet on electric vehicles long before Volkswagen's presentation, announcing in January it aims to be 100% electric by 2035. General Motors has rolled out its Ultium EV architecture, made a number of product announcements, and is also among the leaders in autonomous driving thanks to its Cruise subsidiary. 

In total the company is investing $27 billion on electric and other green technologies over the next five years. Yet despite all the hype around EVs and the sky-high valuations assigned to many of the companies that make them, General Motors still only trades at less than 11 times expected 2021 earnings. 

GM put out what might have been a subtle reminder of its efforts this week, during the Volkswagen mania, tweeting pictures of construction work at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant rebranded as "Factory ZERO" and currently being retooled for electric production. 

It's not that investors have no idea what GM is doing. The company's shares are actually having a great year, up 42% since Dec. 31, 2020 as of this writing. Until the last week that was good enough to outpace shares of Volkswagen, but that all changed when VW did its EV presentation and its shares took off in the days that followed. 

The race is far from over, and there is almost certainly going to be more than one winner. When all is said and done, I am highly confident General Motors will be among the companies that will come out on top. 

Think Ford is behind on EVs? Think again.

John Rosevear (Ford Motor): Unlike Volkswagen and General Motors, Ford hasn't (yet) presented its overall electric-vehicle strategy in a compelling way. But that doesn't mean that Ford doesn't have a strategy. It does, and it's uniquely Ford. 

Ford executives have told me that the company's strategy is to lead its customers to embrace electric vehicles by offering "gotta-have" products that offer unique advantages because of their electric drivetrains, not in spite of them. The idea is that in time, Ford will be able to move its entire lineup to electric drivetrains because it will have shown its customers that electric vehicles are better. 

Ford's Mustang Mach-E is the opening bid in that effort. It's a vehicle clearly inspired by Tesla but -- just as clearly -- given a Ford spin, with Ford's strong build quality, generous doses of style and cool borrowed from the Mustang, and the well-thought-out details (like the drain-equipped trunk that doubles as a cooler) that are Blue Oval hallmarks. 

A red Ford Mustang Mach-E, an electric performance crossover.

Ford's hot-selling electric Mustang Mach-E is part of a much bigger strategy. Image source: Ford Motor Company.

Most importantly, the strongly positive reception that the Mach-E has received shows that Ford's strategy is sound. And Ford will soon build on that strategy: We know that over the next 15 months or so, we'll see two more important electric Fords, the e-Transit commercial van and an all-electric version of the iconic F-150 pickup truck. 

But what's the big picture? What is Ford's overall plan to challenge Tesla (and VW, and GM, and everyone else) with batteries and supply chain and dedicated EV architectures and all that? Ford hasn't told us yet, but I think we'll learn a lot more at the company's annual Investor Day this spring. 

When they do, I think electric-vehicle investors will be impressed -- and I think that will turn out to be a significant catalyst for Ford's stock. 

Investors are "rotating" toward value stocks. Here's a bargain in the cars sector

Rich Smith (Magna International): If you're looking for a bargain in the EV industry, you may need to wait a while.

Tesla stock costs more than 1,000 times trailing earnings today. Unprofitable NIO has no earnings, but costs 21 times sales (which is just as insane as 1,000 times earnings). Workhorse Group now has the worst of both worlds. It just lost its biggest chance to become a profitable business, and its stock costs more than 1,000 times sales.

But what about Magna International?

Long one of the biggest names in contract automotive manufacturing of cars with internal combustion motors, Canada's Magna International has been moving aggressively to support automakers racing toward the electric future. An early partner with Ford in its efforts to break into EVs, today Magna is building an I-Pace electric car for Jaguar and an Ocean electric SUV for Fisker. In cooperation with LG Electronics, it's also building a variety of components for other electric vehicles being built by other automakers.

And while it's not immediately obvious, Magna also may be one of the best bargains in the automotive industry, too. Sure, with only $757 million in trailing profits under generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and a P/E ratio of 37, Magna may not seem cheap. But the company generated more than $2.1 billion in free cash flow last year -- nearly three times reported profits -- giving its stock a price-to-free-cash-flow ratio of only 13.4.

With modest debt levels (just $2.7 billion net of cash), a respectable dividend yield of 1.8%, and an attainable projected growth rate of 9%, Magna looks like a bargain to me.

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Stocks Mentioned

General Motors Company Stock Quote
General Motors Company
GM
$35.40 (-1.99%) $0.72
Ford Motor Company Stock Quote
Ford Motor Company
F
$12.50 (-2.72%) $0.35
Tesla, Inc. Stock Quote
Tesla, Inc.
TSLA
$663.90 (-6.42%) $-45.52
Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft Stock Quote
Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft
VWAGY
$19.58 (-0.61%) $0.12
Magna International Inc. Stock Quote
Magna International Inc.
MGA
$61.47 (-2.02%) $-1.27
Nio Inc. Stock Quote
Nio Inc.
NIO
$16.44 (-1.32%) $0.22
Workhorse Group Inc. Stock Quote
Workhorse Group Inc.
WKHS
$2.78 (-5.44%) $0.16
Fisker, Inc. Stock Quote
Fisker, Inc.
FSR
$11.07 (-2.90%) $0.33

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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