After being surpassed by BYD, Volkswagen meets with doubtful investors to persuade them of turnaround plan

Volkswagen AG faces an uphill battle to convince investors it can turn around its business in China.

After being leapfrogged by China’s BYD Co. as the nation’s top carmaker, Volkswagen said it’ll take until 2026 to start winning back market share. That prognosis is casting a shadow over a string of key meetings this week, including investor presentations in Beijing.

“We doubt that Volkswagen can convince the market that the negative trend can be halted or reversed,” said UBS analyst Patrick Hummel. 

Volkswagen has failed to shake negative investor sentiment since model delays and software missteps prompted the company to replace then-Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess with Porsche head Oliver Blume in 2022. Under Blume, the carmaker has put in place new partnerships in China, teaming up with local EV maker XPeng Inc. for its EV models, and kicked off a deep overhaul to lift returns at its struggling VW brand.

Investors will be looking to Blume for fresh optimism this week at Volkswagen’s upcoming Capital Markets Day on April 24, dubbed China Day, followed by the auto show in Beijing. Up to now, they haven’t been convinced. Volkswagen’s stock has fallen about 13% since Blume took over, while the share price of rival Stellantis NV, which has been quicker to introduce more affordable EV models, has nearly doubled over the same period.

Volkswagen isn’t alone in struggling with the rise of China’s domestic auto industry. German carmakers BMW AG and Mercedes-Benz Group AG have seen their market share decline, particularly among electric models, as companies like BYD and Nio Inc. pulled ahead with competitive prices and models decked out with the latest tech gadgetry.

But Volkswagen’s struggles stand out. Profitability at its joint ventures in China has been declining since 2015 and is now roughly half of what it was then, according to an analysis from Bernstein. After reporting €2.6 billion ($2.8 billion) in operating profit in 2023, Volkswagen expects as little as €1.5 billion from those businesses this year.

“Time might be running short for Volkswagen,” said Pal Skirta, an analyst at B Metzler Seel Sohn & Co AG. “The lack of affordable EVs in comparison to Chinese, but also already to some other European volume brands, might weigh on the valuation of the group in the quarters ahead.”

Still, 16 of 26 brokers tracked by Bloomberg have a “buy” rating for Volkswagen, in large part due to its currently cheap valuation. Only two recommend selling the shares. 

Bank of America Corp.’s Horst Schneider even named Volkswagen as his top-pick, seeing potential for the company to raise its guidance after the second quarter after issuing a conservative forecast. 

Moritz Kronenberger, a portfolio manager at Union Investment Privatfonds, agreed with the potential for Volkswagen to raise its guidance, but cautioned that the outlook is still uncertain.

“It’s us, the buy side, who are losing the money once Volkswagen starts to come up with disappointing results again,” Kronenberger said.

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