Due to the synergy potential and longer investment horizons, strategic investors are currently prepared to pay higher purchase prices than financial investors. When prices are at a premium and lenders are unwilling, the value model of buyout funds (purchase price financing through additional debt (leverage) and dividend payments) is no longer sustainable. Other sectors currently provide better returns for private equity because lending conditions are more favorable.
However, carve-outs, succession situations and insolvencies have created many attractive opportunities for turnaround investors in the automotive sector. Strategic investors are put off turnaround companies because of the risk, time and management capacity involved. As a result, turnaround investors find themselves faced with limited competition for target companies.
Reassessing company structures and transferring manufacturing expertise into sustainable and growing product areas sets turnaround companies up for long-term growth. Bolt-on acquisitions and order volumes taken over from insolvent competitors also create economies of scale and improve the negotiating position with customers and suppliers.
For all these reasons, in the private equity space, the automotive sector is currently only attractive to turnaround investors with the necessary expertise. The ability to differentiate between attractive target companies in a fast-changing market, and develop their long-term potential, is essential for investments to succeed. Bringing in the right management capability to realize a company’s operational potential and improve the cost structure, accompanied by a reliable network in the car industry and in the turnaround community, facilitates targeted and efficient restructuring measures and sustainable relationships with all stakeholders.
Venture capital investors are already widely involved with automotive start-ups focused on new technologies and alternative business models, including Vehicle-as-a-Service and shared mobility ventures. As soon as this new generation of companies scales up and their cash flow turns positive, they will be an great fit for growth and buy-out investors’ investment criteria. In this respect venture capital investments can be seen as a precursor to private equity interest.
With greater clarity on what the future of the car industry will look like as time goes on, we expect lenders to regain their confidence and increase their engagement with the mobility industry. Loan-financed investment models will become lucrative again, and growth and buy-out investors will return. For turnaround investors, the intense competition in the car industry and the tremendous pace of development mean there will be no shortage of companies that are left behind and in need of external expertise and capital.