VW CEO's embrace of Elon Musk's playbook sends stock soaring
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WOLFSBURG - Volkswagen has swiftly gone from corporate dinosaur status to stock market darling, and its chief executive officer's imitation of Elon Musk has a lot to do with it.
Herbert Diess has taken a page out of the Tesla CEO's script for captivating investors big and small, taking a hands-on role in getting VW's message out on social media and staging splashy events big on ambition. It's paying off - the carmaker's common shares are now up almost 70 percent this year while the more liquid preference shares are up more than 40 percent.
The turnabout in sentiment has been dramatic and sudden. VW's market capitalisation dropped last year as Tesla vaulted past all other carmakers to become the world's most valuable by a wide margin. But already this month, VW has added about 36 billion euros (R632bn) to its valuation, as optimism that it may be able to catch up to Tesla squeezes short sellers.
"This may be driven in part by US retail investors jumping on the electric vehicle train," said Frederic Benizri, a cross asset sales trader at Louis Capital Markets. High short interest in VW's common shares is probably driving the squeeze, he said, with buying of American Depositary Receipts fuelling outperformance.
The amount of market value VW has added in March is well over half the total capitalisation of Diess's former employer, BMW, which set a goal on Wednesday for roughly half of total sales to be all-electric by the end of the decade.
VW's stock started its ascent when UBS Group analysts issued a bullish set of reports on its findings from tearing apart VW's first mass-market model built off a dedicated EV platform, the ID.3 hatchback. The car is "the most credible EV effort by any legacy auto company so far," wrote Patrick Hummel, who raised his price target on the shares.
Much like Musk tries to dominate the news cycle, VW has made rapid-fire announcements in the weeks since then. It took the wraps off a more spacious version of the Porsche Taycan, doubled the VW brand's EV sales share target for Europe and announced through Diess's LinkedIn and Twitter accounts that it would host an event similar to Tesla's "Battery Day" in September.
"VW's Power Day was a watershed event in the company's history," Tom Narayan, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a report Wednesday, raising his price target by roughly a third. He said VW's battery-electric vehicles "should enable shares to re-rate higher given improved profitability."
VW followed up its declaration that it aims to build six battery factories in Europe alone by the end of the decade with an annual earnings conference that it also chose to focus on EVs.
While the healthy gains Diess has generated lately are still a far cry from what Musk pulled off last year, they have partially made up for lowered compensation. The CEO's salary, including pension contributions, fell to 7.7 million euros last year, from 8.4 million in 2019, VW disclosed Tuesday in its annual report.