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Better Buy: Tesla or Equal Parts of Lucid, Rivian, Nio, and Ford?

After making waves in 2021, the electric vehicle (EV) industry has wasted no time making a name for itself so far in 2022. Despite the Nasdaq Composite being negative for the year, share prices of Lucid Group (NASDAQ: LCID) and Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) have already gained over 17% each as investors cheer EV investments and accelerated production goals.

Investors looking to take a slice out of the EV pie may consider going with an industry leader like Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), or taking more of a basket approach with several EV stocks such as Lucid, Ford, Rivian Automotive (NASDAQ: RIVN), and Nio (NYSE: NIO). Here's the case for each.

Image source: Lucid Group.

The obvious choice is often the best choice

Daniel Foelber (Tesla): The good thing about industry-leading companies is that their strengths and weaknesses are right in the open. Due to its routine media coverage, Tesla's pros and cons are even more broadly discussed than most companies'.

Tesla's long list of strengths starts with its extremely high production and delivery growth rate. 2021 deliveries of 936,172 vehicles were nearly four times higher than its full-year 2018 delivery numbers. High sales and a global footprint have helped Tesla improve its profitability. The full-year results aren't out yet, but Tesla's trailing-12-month figures for the last three years illustrate just how fast its top line and profitability are growing. For example, consider that Tesla's trailing-12-month revenue is up 80% from three years ago, its net income is up to $3.5 billion, and its operating margin is 9.5%.

TSLA Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

We'll likely see Tesla's profitability continue to improve as it ramps up production and grows its manufacturing capacity thanks to the launch of Gigafactories in Texas and Germany this year.

Tesla's strengths are its industry-leading position in the global EV market, advanced battery and self-driving technology, first-mover advantage, expansive DC fast-charging network, strong brand equity, a diverse business that includes other energy solutions, and industry-leading operating margin. Its main weakness has nothing to do with Tesla the company, but rather, it has to do with Tesla the stock and its expensive valuation.

If recent history tells us anything, it's that the market will give fundamentally strong businesses premium valuations because it's better to buy a fantastic company for an expensive price than a decent company for a cheap price. Tesla is a fantastic company. And while its stock price could very easily go down over the short term, its long-term strengths show no signs of fading anytime soon. Buying Tesla seems like an easy choice. But so was simply buying large tech stocks like Apple, Microsoft, or Alphabet over the last few years -- all three of which crushed the market. Tesla may underperform a basket of EV stocks. But it also could be a simple yet effective solution that's good enough for investors looking for a small position in the EV industry.

Taking emotion out

Howard Smith (Lucid/Rivian/Nio/Ford): Comparing the recent share prices of the undisputed EV king and its up-and-coming competitors is an interesting exercise. Going on three weeks into the new year, the stock movements in 2022 still tell the story for those debating spreading bets or buying into the leader:

LCID data by YCharts

Of course, looking at results over a short period is meaningless when judging total returns. But the above chart still shows what investors should think about when deciding how to approach investing in EV manufacturers. Buying shares in the group of Lucid, Rivian, Ford, and Nio will likely result in a mix of results. In just the first month of 2022, that has ranged from a drop of almost 20% to a gain of more than 19%.

That's partly because when it comes to these companies -- and the transition to electrification that Ford has in the works -- there remain many uncertainties and risks. Tesla's path has been well documented, and though there are likely surprises still to come from CEO Elon Musk and company, its EV business is established.

Ford is just beginning to sell its Mach-E, and interest in the F-150 Lightning appears to be off the charts, so investors are betting it will be successful in the EV space. Lucid just began delivering its luxury Air sedans and has plans to grow overseas and with future new vehicle offerings, including its Gravity SUV. It expects to be selling in Europe this year and plans to begin production on the luxury electric SUV late in 2023.

Rivian just recently began trading publicly, and news that early investor and customer Amazon will be spreading its purchases of electric delivery vans among other producers spooked investors.

Nio is the most established EV manufacturer among this group besides Tesla. It has expansion and growth planned for 2022, but investors have already given it a relatively high valuation.

If you believe in Tesla even considering its $1 trillion valuation, that might be the EV stock for you. But if a 40% or 50% drop in shares would cause panic, investing in a group that will likely have some winners and some losers might be a better approach. Lucid, Rivian, Ford, and Nio could all be winners in the EV market. But if not, at least a mix might help take emotion out of the investments. And emotion is rarely beneficial when it comes to investing decisions.

Investing in EV stocks in a way that fits your personal preference

Given the pros and cons of the points discussed, the best option for most investors could be selecting EV stocks that suit your risk tolerance and weighting them accordingly in a basket of EV stocks. For many, that basket could include Tesla. For others, it may carry higher weights of riskier but potentially more rewarding companies like Lucid and Rivian. And for risk-averse investors, it could entail sticking to legacy automakers like Ford that have shown a commitment to investing in the electric car industry.

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Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel Foelber has the following options: long February 2022 $185 puts on Apple and short February 2022 $180 puts on Apple. Howard Smith owns Amazon, Apple, Lucid Group, Inc., Microsoft, and NIO Inc. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, NIO Inc., and Tesla. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon, long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon, and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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