Days before production starts on Volkswagen Group's cornerstone electric vehicle, the ID3, the automaker is stepping up a push to more than double its market value and gain investor recognition for the industry's most ambitious technology push.
In an internal newsletter sent last week, CFO Frank Witter prodded managers to get behind a goal to reach a valuation of 200 billion euros ($222 billion), arguing that a higher stock price will help VW keep pace with rivals and strengthen its hand in negotiations with future partners. Witter’s message confirms a goal reported earlier this month by Bloomberg.
"We must increase our company value in order to stay competitive," Witter said in the newsletter seen by Bloomberg. “A higher capital market value reflects profitability and financial strength along with the future viability of a company.”
The need to act is evident in VW’s numbers. VW leads Toyota in deliveries and generates robust cash and profits. But Toyota has more cost-efficient manufacturing operations and a market value of 24.4 trillion yen ($225 billion), versus about $95 billion for VW.
VW's lower valuation and earnings multiples suggest investors are not convinced the company's 44 billion-euro ($49 billion) plan will succeed in making VW a leader in electrification with new, money-spinning software-based services.
The company starts production on the ID3 full-electric hatchback, a key entry in an e-car onslaught that will eventually span 70 models across the group, at its plant in Zwickau on Nov. 4, with an event to be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"We are tackling crucial future areas, among them e-mobility and digitalization, with resolution and determination," Witter said. "That boosts our credibility and the capital market gains more trust in our future viability."
A VW spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the newsletter, which will be used to regularly update managers on developments in the capital markets, and declined to comment further. The company has linked compensation of its top executives more closely with share-price performance, and is phasing in the system across management ranks.
The seven-point plan includes strengthening individual brands such as VW, Audi and Porsche, growth in China and boosting software operations.
The plan outlines these goals:
- Strong brands with clear positioning and great products
- Leading position in China, with value-creating global growth
- Eliminate complexity, industry-leading economies of scale
- Full commitment to carbon-neutral goals and shaping e-mobility
- Transform into a leading automotive software player
- Optimize business portfolio and rigorous allocation of capital
Industry peers such as General Motors, Ford and Daimler also trade at relatively low multiples, far behind cash-rich Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Waymo parent Alphabet that are plotting to grab valuable turf as technology challenges traditional automaking businesses.
"We have a lot of potential within the group," VW CEO Herbert Diess said on the sidelines of the presentation of the revamped Golf compact hatchback on Thursday. "We can make better use of synergies internally," he said.
Diess declined to elaborate on the next steps.
Porsche, Lamborghini options
Investors and analysts have intensified calls for VW to become more nimble and address an unwieldy conglomerate structure that includes 12 automotive brands.
Porsche alone could be worth 100 billion euros ($111 billion) in a potential initial public offering, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
The company has been weighing options for the Lamborghini unit, including a sale or a stock listing, people familiar with the matter said this month.
While no decisions have been made, VW has started preparations to fold the Italian supercar brand into a separate legal entity.
VW has said there is no plan in place for a Lamborghini IPO or sale.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unlocked value with the IPO of its Ferrari unit, now worth about $30 billion. However key VW stakeholders have stifled similar moves at the automaker.
An asset review started in 2016 has brought few tangible results to date, beyond an aborted effort to sell the Ducati motorbike brand and an initial public offering of the trucks division this year after much internal wrangling.