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Nio pulled off an incredible turnaround in 2020

Nio pulled off an incredible turnaround in 2020


Thanks in large part to the Chinese government

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Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Chinese EV startup Nio entered 2020 on the brink but emerged stronger than ever, thanks in large part to a government bailout. That government aid helped Nio get back on its feet just in time to ride a new wave of optimism in EVs — something that’s never been more clear than after the company offered the first snapshot of its financial performance for the year on Monday.

To wit, the startup generated $2.4 billion in sales, double what it pulled down in 2019. That was largely thanks to Nio more than doubling deliveries from roughly 20,000 in 2019 to 43,000 in 2020. That’s despite how the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak dragged down the startup’s first quarter sales.

Some 17,000 of those vehicles delivered in 2020 were sold in the fourth quarter, too, meaning Nio is building momentum. (In fact, it expects to ship at least 20,000 in the first quarter of 2021, which is typically the slowest.) And Nio now offers multiple vehicles at different price points, meaning there’s more room to grow than ever before.

Nio has $6.5 billion in cash after starting 2020 with next to nothing

Nio still posted an $813 million loss for the year, though that’s roughly half the $1.6 billion loss it suffered in 2019. Most importantly, Nio cut those losses while increasing its cash pile to $6.5 billion — an almost unthinkable figure when you consider that the startup had just about $300 million in the bank at the start of the year and was warning shareholders that it may not survive.

Nio had previously tried just about everything to pull out of its self-inflicted nosedive, which was the result of incredible growth and, likewise, cash burn. It laid off thousands and scaled back its presence in North America. It sold off its Formula E race team. It canceled a planned factory in Shanghai, instead opting to continue paying a contract manufacturer to make its EVs.

Even after all that, Nio still likely wouldn’t have made it to this point without the bailout it received from the government one year ago. While there is renewed optimism in the financial markets around electric vehicles, to say the least, the resulting flood of investments didn’t really kick off until well after Nio had reached its low point. With that investment, though, Nio was able to get more SUVs out the door, launch new models, and keep paying its contract manufacturer. Nio was ultimately able to benefit from the EV boom, too, since much of the startup’s cash pile is the result of selling more shares into the red-hot market.

There’s no guarantee that Nio’s momentum will last. In fact, on Monday, the startup offered a more conservative forecast for the first half of 2021 than expected, and its stock price took a hit as a result. But that’s the kind of problem you have to be thankful you’re dealing with when you get as close to the edge as Nio was last year.